Tuesday, July 15, 2008

7th US Circuit Court of Appeals Says Condo Association Can Ban Mezuzot


There is no need to try to explain our religion to someone who doesn't practice it. They can't understand. They just don't have any frame of reference for what we are required to do.

No other religion has a requirement to disengage from the world for 25 hours a week, not answering the phone or flipping a lightswitch; no other religion in the world goes beyond what you eat and concerns itself with your dishes and pots and pans and makes you wait between different types of food; no other religion in the world requires the hanging of a mezuzah.

They can't understand, and they won't understand. A lot of the problem lies with the fact that they see other Jews who don't follow Mitzvot, and those who are not Jewish can't understand why they don't do certain things and you do. There is nothing quite as frustrating as going to your boss and asking for Sukkot off, and being told, "Well, Mr. So-and-so doesn't need that holiday off, and he's Jewish. Why do you need it off? I've never heard of that holiday." (I have often said something like: "You know how Catholics and Protestants and Mormons and Evangelicals are all different? So are the different type of Jews . . . ." It helps, but it doesn't quite capture it.)

So, now we have a condo association comparing their Jewish members to Shylock in a court brief and asserting that a Mezuzah is similar to a mat or some shoes or a family photograph left in the hallway--and the appeals court is agreeing!! Here is the OU statement on the whole matter.

A very sad day. At least their are Jews on the Supreme Court if it gets that far . . .

No Right to Mezuzot at Condos
By JOSH GERSTEIN, Staff Reporter of the Sun | July 11, 2008

Observant Jews have no right under federal law to install small scrolls known as mezuzot outside the doors of their condominiums, a federal appeals court declared yesterday.

The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled, 2-1, that the condominium association at Shoreline Towers in Chicago did not run afoul of the Fair Housing Act when managers removed the religious items pursuant to a rule barring the placement of signs, shoes, mats, and any other sort of object outside residents' doors.

"The hallway rule ... is neutral with respect to religion," Judge Frank Easterbrook, joined by Judge William Bauer, wrote. "It bans photos of family vacations, political placards, for-sale notices, and Chicago Bears pennants."

Judge Easterbrook said the Fair Housing Act requires accommodation for the handicapped, but outlaws only discrimination with regard to other protected groups. "We cannot create an accommodation requirement for religion (race, sex, and so on). Our job is not to make the law the best it can be, but to enforce the law actually enacted," he wrote.

In dissent, Judge Diane Wood said enforcement of the rule amounted to a "constructive eviction" of observant Jewish residents, as well as an effective bar on Jews moving into the housing complex. "Hallway Rule 1 operates exactly as a redlining rule does with respect to the ability of the owner to sell to observant Jews. No such person could buy a unit at Shoreline Towers," she wrote. "The Association might as well hang a sign outside saying 'No observant Jews allowed.'"

The case was brought by Lynne Bloch and her children, Helen and Nathan, who live in three units at Shoreline Towers and had mezuzot on their doors until 2004. After a renovation, building managers began removing the items, once doing so while the family was at funeral services for Marvin Bloch, Mrs. Bloch's husband and the father of the two children. The cat-and-mouse game of installing and removing the mezuzot continued until 2005, when the board created a religious exception and the city of Chicago enacted an ordinance guaranteeing the right to such religious displays.

"This is going to be a very troubling decision," an attorney for the American Jewish Congress, Marc Stern, said. "As more and more people live in cities in this sort of housing, this has a very real, substantial impact."

Mr. Stern said New Yorkers have little, if any, protection against similar acts. In 1994, a New York appeals court ruled that the installation of electronic locks on an apartment building did not amount to discrimination against Orthodox Jews who would not use them on the Sabbath.

Helen Bloch said she is considering appealing to the full bench of 7th Circuit or the Supreme Court. "There was an intentional act to discriminate against us," she said.

Judge Wood also criticized the condominium association for filing a brief that accused the plaintiffs of trying to get a "pound of flesh" from the group. She noted that the reference comes from Shakespeare's "The Merchant of Venice" and pertains to the human collateral insisted upon by a nefarious Jewish moneylender, Shylock, who is later punished by being forced to convert to Christianity.

"This is hardly the reference someone should choose who is trying to show that the stand-off ... was not because of the Blochs' religion, but rather in spite of it," she wrote.

1 comment:

  1. What you say is quite right about many people not understanding the myriad of "funny" religious things we do. It reminds me of the Country Yossi song--"Because I'm a jew, I do that too."

    However. I disagree that if it gets to the Supreme Court our friends will be the Jewish justices. There are likely to be the most againts it.
    Unfortunately, in many of these cases, it is the secular Jews who most often have a problem with Jews' public displays of religion. In fact, my money is on Justice William Bauer--one of the two to rule against the mezuzah--being Jewish.


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