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Jewish community members sue Southampton in bid to erect eruv

The original request for an eruv in the

The original request for an eruv in the Hamptons, made by The Hampton Synagogue in Westhampton Beach, divided the community and led to the creation of Jews Against the Eruv, a group that argued an eruv could change the character of their village. (October 13, 2010) Credit: Bruce Gilbert

Members of a Hamptons Orthodox Jewish community have sued Southampton Town for rejecting their request to put up an eruv -- a symbolic boundary thatwould allow members to complete various tasks outside of their houses on the Sabbath and high holy days.

The East End Eruv Association, in a federal lawsuit filed in Brooklyn this week, accused Southampton and its zoning board of appeals of offering "disparaging views" that "constitute discriminatory animus against observant Jews."

Southampton Town Attorney Tiffany Scarlato said, "We do intend to defend ourselves on each and every allegation in the lawsuit."

Since 2008, members of The Hampton Synagogue in Westhampton Beach have tried to establish an eruv, a boundary that is mostly invisible, in Westhampton Beach, Quogue and the Town of Southampton. Litigation regarding decisions in Westhampton Beach and Quogue are pending in federal court.

Southampton's zoning board of appeals upheld a staff decision that small lengths of PVC called lechi that would be put on a utility pole are signs, and rejected a variance request. The eruv association asked to put up 28 of the markers on 15 utility poles in Southampton.

The board ruled that the group missed a deadline to appeal the staff decision. It also found the restriction "derives not from the Town's zoning regulations but from Jewish law . . . The relief requested is motivated by the personal desire of the applicant's members to be freed from the proscriptions of religious law by securing a variance of secular law."

Some Jewish groups have opposed the application for the eruv, which would allow members to do such things as push strollers, carry keys and use wheelchairs.

Jonathan Sinnreich, an attorney for opponents, said that observant Reform and Reconstructionist members of the Jewish group "reject the concept of an eruv as a valid interpretation of Jewish law."

He called the lechi "a deeply religious and sectarian symbol of a particular religious belief that they do not share, and in some cases find offensive," according to the board decision.

Robert G. Sugarman, of Weil Gotshal & Manges, in Manhattan which is representing the eruv association pro bono, said, "The irony of this is that they're so unobtrusive and invisible, you'd have a hard time finding them." He noted there are scores on Long Island.

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