Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

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1 Av 5766 - July 26, 2006 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










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Agudath Israel in Defense Of Rockland County Shabbos House

by Yated Ne'eman Staff

In response to the Village of Suffern's attempt to use zoning laws to close down an Orthodox Jewish health service agency's Shabbos hospitality house, a coalition of Orthodox groups has filed a friend of the court brief in federal district court in support of the house, charging the village with violations of the U.S. and New York Constitutions and the federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 ("RLUIPA").

Agudath Israel of America joined in the brief with six other Orthodox organizations, under the aegis of the National Jewish Commission on Law and Public Affairs. Counsel of Record and author of the brief is the constitutional law expert Nathan Lewin.

At issue is use of a single family home situated across the street from Good Samaritan Hospital. Rockland County Bikur Cholim, a private health service agency, purchased the house as a place where Orthodox family members of patients in the hospital could reside over Shabbossos and Yomim Tovim, in order to be able to visit their sick relatives over the course of those days.

The village cited the facility as illegal, defining it as a "transient motel," even though the service is provided free and only to patients' family members.

The Orthodox groups' brief takes issue with the village's characterization of the facility as a mere "convenience" made available to visitors. It asserts that, as visiting the sick and observing the Sabbath are both religious obligations in Judaism, the use of zoning laws to prevent religiously observant Jews from honoring them constitutes an infringement the free exercise of religion. In addition to violating the constitutional protections for free exercise, the village's position is contrary to RLUIPA, which protects the use of land for religious purposes from restrictive zoning ordinances.

Also cited in the brief is the apparent discrimination against Orthodox Jewish observance inherent in the village's permitting of "houses of worship" in the same zoning district where the Bikur Cholim facility functions, even though it, too, serves as a Shabbos house of worship.

Speaking for Agudath Israel of America, Rabbi David Zwiebel, executive vice president for Government and Public Affairs, said: "We fought in congress for passage of RLUIPA in order to require localities to be more hospitable to religious uses of property. The Village of Suffern's attempt to deny Orthodox Jews the ability to visit their sick relatives at Good Samaritan Hospital on the Sabbath and Jewish holidays is indefensible on humanitarian grounds — and, as Nat Lewin has now shown in his brief, it is equally indefensible on legal grounds."


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