The Expert On Eruvs Responds To David May’s Wild Idea

Last week, Mahwah Councilman David May went before the Bergen County Freeholders and requested that they work with various parties to create a county-wide eruv, here in Bergen County.  Despite the serious issues initially identified with the proposal, Mr. May and Mahwah’s Council President, Rob Hermansen, insisted on pursuing it.  They asked for dialogue and questioned why anyone would be against such a plan.

Eruv Litigation went to one of the foremost authorities on eruvin and posed the question as to whether such a plan was even possible.

Rabbi Yosef Gavriel Bechofer*, author of The Contemporary Eruv, was kind enough to evaluate Councilman May’s request for a “county-wide” eruv.

Here is his analysis:

The Ritva (Eruvin 22b) and his Rebbe the Ra’ah hold that walls are not valid when they enclose too broad an area. The Nishmas Adam Klal 49 and the Maharsham 4:1 write that the extent of a person’s unaided eyesight is sixteen mil (mil = 2000 amos). However, scholars have noted that the curvature of the earth prevents one standing at ground level from seeing much further than six mil; and, therefore, that it is questionable whether the source upon which the Nishmas Adam bases his ruling may be applied to the Halachos of Eruvin.
Besides for the issue of size, there is the issue of what the eruv would enclose. Within a large eruv there are likely – nay, there are inevitably – karpeifos (uninhabitable areas that invalidate an eruv) and intercity highways (which are considered reshuyos ho’rabbim – public thoroughfares that invalidate an eruv).
In short, a [Bergen] county-wide eruv is a practical impossibility.
So there it is.  In addition to this idea being bad from a civics point of view, this proposal makes no sense from the perspective of Jewish Law (halacha).  So much for it being “forward thinking“, Mr May.

* Rabbi Yosef Gavriel Bechhofer is the author of one of the most popular tracts on the subject of metropolitan eruvin, and serves as a consultant to communities across the continent, facilitating the building and maintenance of urban and suburban eruvin.


Mahwah: David May explains why the Township is on the wrong side of their civil rights lawsuit

There’s a reason that attorneys ask clients not to speak while they are in the midst of litigation.  Sometimes they can say things, especially truthful things, that destroy the case they are trying to make.

Mahwah Councilman David May came before the Bergen County Freeholders last week with a proposal to create a “county-wide eruv”.  If you want to see why this is a half-baked idea that shouldn’t have been presented, you can see my first post here, which has a set of open questions Mr May refuses to answer, despite his repeated requests for dialogue.

But now, despite his efforts to say that this concept is unrelated to the civil rights lawsuits brought by the State of New Jersey against the Town and his council individually, Mr. May is coming under criticism for such an ill-suited idea, clearly intended to shift the conversation away from the elephant in the Mahwah council chambers.

One of those criticisms came from Jacob Sasson, an attorney with previous experience teaching the First Amendment, on Facebook (you can read our similar criticism here). 

This is an astute observation by a professor that is knowledgeable in the subject matter.

Then came the reply:

“An eruv is barely noticeable attachment to telephone poles”.

Why exactly are these Civil Rights lawsuits against Mahwah happening?

On July 21st, in a letter from Mahwah’s zoning officer to the Eruv Association, Mr. Kelly wrote that “the installation of an eruv would constitute a sign on a utility pole”.  He further states that “[s]ign shall mean any device for visual communication that is used for the purpose of bringing the subject thereof to the attention of the public”.

Does the eruv qualify as a “device for visual communication”?

“An eruv is barely noticeable attachment to telephone poles”
– Councilman David May

We couldn’t have put it better ourselves.

Mahwah’s answer to the Federal complaint is due on January 12th for the suit brought by the Eruv Association and on January 30th for the suit brought by the State of New Jersey.

Deadlines and case information may be found here:


Follow-up to county-wide eruv story (it was never about the eruv)

For here we admit a wrong; here we reaffirm our commitment as a nation to equal justice under the law.
– President Ronald Reagan on Signing the Bill Providing Restitution for the Wartime Internment of Japanese-American Civilians 
August 10, 1988

There are civil rights battles that transcend party, ideology and tribe. Mahwah, NJ is experiencing one of those moments.

As mentioned in the last post, Mahwah Councilman David May has proposed a county-wide eruv*, appearing before the BergenCounty Freeholders, last Wednesday.  There are many problems with such a proposal and should he deem to answer the open questions put to him in my last post, I’m sure they will become readily apparent.

But on social media, David May and other elected officials have continued to press forward.

The Council President of Mahwah, Robert Hermansen responded via Facebook:

So let me get this straight Mr. Kaplan it is okay to build an ERUV inside a Bergen County town for residents in Rockland County for people to use but it is passing the buck if a county wide ERUV is being discussed. You can not make this up.
When Dave came to me with this idea I told him it had promise but getting the Freeholders who have been silent on the issue except Mrs. Amoroso who is adamant that the ERUV must stay to do anything on this would be a miracle. It is an interesting concept I believe the Freeholder who lives in Mahwah should comment on this I believe this is a better solution than having people come into your town in the dark of the night without permission. Then having vagrants showing up at town meetings looking to cause problems instead of coming up with solutions to people illegally installing items in other towns right of ways. I am still very confused like Mrs. Schepisi why a town in Bergen County needs to solve a NY problem. Mr. Kaplan admitted yet again that this request is coming from actual people who not only do not live in Mahwah but the state of NJ [sic]. I agree with Mr. May that I believe this is a solution that should be discussed.

But this episode goes to show that while Mr. Hermansen and Mr. May might have heard my words before the council at various meetings since July, they clearly have not been listening.

Perhaps if he considered his critics citizens instead of “vagrants”, he may have bothered to listen to what we were trying to impart.

Let me be clear: the issues Mahwah is mired in, are CIVIL RIGHTS issues.  They are defendants in CIVIL RIGHTS lawsuits by the State of New Jersey as well as a Jewish organization.

The fact this is a civil rights issue is beyond dispute.  Our republican appointed attorney general says so in his suit against the township and council.  Soon, the democratic appointed AG will continue to say so, as he takes over the suit. This is an issue that transcends party and ideology.

Back in the summer, an acquaintance asked me if the eruv would “win” the lawsuit in Mahwah? I responded that the Constitution will win and the eruv will benefit.

I have spoken at length on this issue since July & August and my message has been the same — I (and others) have been going to Mahwah and speaking at meetings to DEFEND THE CONSTITUTION OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA.  I’m not denying that such a defense of the constitution will benefit those bringing suit for denial of their rights viz a vid the eruv.  But it’s the rights, not the eruv, that have prompted me to act.

Constitutional rights exist for everyone.  They know no boundaries.  I took an oath to uphold them, when I was sworn in by the township of Teaneck.  Robert Hermansen and David May took the same oath when they were sworn in by the township of Mahwah.

On August 3rd, shortly after a group of us started attending meetings in Mahwah and Upper Saddle River, we heard the following:

“Standing for the First Amendment knows no state boundaries. Standing knows . . . no municipal boundaries. If there is truly something that affects [Plaintiffs’] rights, the courts will hear it. And the courts will be lenient in hearing this because this has been heard already in two major circuits in this area.”

That was stated at the August 3rd, 2017, meeting in USR by Council for the Township, Bruce Rosen.  Mr. Rosen, defended Tenafly in their decade long litigation against an eruv.  If anyone has experience and understanding in this area, it’s Mr. Rosen.

Why would I be opposed to a county-wide eruv, David May keeps asking me.  Maybe, if anyone was asking for it and a need arose for such an accommodation, I’d consider it.  But that’s not the case. It’s the proper role of government to ensure civil rights. It’s not the proper role to create eruvin.

What Mr. May fails to grasp is that this was never about an eruv.  It was about upholding the oath of office we all took when we said we would support the Constitution of New Jersey and the Constitution of the United States.

In August, I asked if Mahwah understood the fundamental issues at stake here. This week, Mahwah makes me doubt they have learned what their error has been.

The Chief of Police told you that your actions were wrong. As did the County Prosecutor and the State Attorney General.

At some point, it needs to dawn on Mahwah’s leaders, so they can say: Here, we admit a wrong.

Only then, will healing the divisions they have sown, be possible.

At the last council meeting in Mahwah, I implored the council to start listening to residents and others coming before them.

It seems to have fallen on deaf ears.

* via Facebook, Mr. May stated that “this was not proposed as a solution to a current problem. This is a proactive thought that should be considered by the Freeholders.”  He further clarified that “this is not about Mahwah. This is an opportunity for the county to be forward thinking and be a leader to all of their towns.”

Mahwah’s David May: Neglecting what’s necessary to focus on the irrelevant

As reported by Eruv Litigation, Mahwah Councilman David May proposed this week, that the Bergen County Freeholders work with utilities and eruv associations to create a county-wide eruv* for all of Bergen County.

Mr. May stated, “my suggestion isn’t a solution to an existing problem. It is a forward thinking proposal”.

This has been proffered, per Mr. May’s statements on his Facebook page, as a way to

  1. “Remove the potential legal burden off of each individual town in Bergen County”
  2. “Remove the burden on individual Eruv Associations, as there could be a county association”
  3. “Eliminate the uncertainty surrounding the subject matter by increasing awareness of all county residents”

Let’s take this one at a time:

Legal Burdens

The reason for the lawsuit against Mahwah is because the Town Council voted to issue summonses to the eruv association on the eve of a potential meeting with them. If Mr. May and his fellow council-members were truly interested in removing eruv-related legal burdens on their town, the council could permit the eruv and end the litigation today.  They choose not to do so.  Their answer in the federal civil rights action brought by the eruv association is due on January 12th, 2018.  The answer in the federal civil rights action brought against them by the State of New Jersey is due on January 16th, 2018.

Burden on individual Eruv Associations

This is an astounding claim, as there doesn’t appear to actually BE any burden on eruv associations.  The Bergen Rockland Eruv Association has contracted with Orange & Rockland utilities, dealt with insurance, financing, upkeep and maintenance and obtained all requisite insurance necessary for the eruv project.  As they have a valid contract in place with the utility and have expressed no burden requiring help from the County, it’s unclear why a burden exists and how this extra work would ease it.

Uncertainty Surrounding the subject matter

We have asked Councilman May what he means here and based on several responses, it appears to have to do with a public relations effort to support a cross-cultural understanding of what an eruv is and why they are used, so people who have attempted to use opposition to an eruv as a means of excluding certain individuals from their town would have a greater awareness of the issue.

It’s unclear how a County-Wide eruv solves the problem of ignorance and hatred.  But should this council choose to deal head-on with ignorance and hatred, it should start by self-reflecting on how they treat those that oppose their views and why they stay silent when such hatred and vitriol rears its head in their presence**.

Open Questions For Mr. May:

  1. Are any of Bergen County’s Jewish residents asking for a County-Wide eruv?
  2. Is there an eruv association that has asked for help?
  3. Have you spoken to any eruv associations regarding such a large project to find out if they would even accept such a thing before making such a public pronouncement?
    1. if so, what did they say about whether they would find it acceptable?
    2. if not, why did you make this very public request to the County before doing some basic research?
  4. How would a County-Wide eruv affect any issues Mahwah is currently facing?
    1. In light of statements made by the council president that objects to mandates, how would you handle municipalities that still don’t wish to be within an eruv?
    2. Would Mahwah state definitively, now, that an eruv anywhere within its borders (even without a county-wide solution) is acceptable?
  5. Are there not easier and more effective ways of addressing stigma and the ignorance and hatred on display by residents?
  6. Do you feel it is the role of government to move beyond merely granting a religious accommodation when requested, to actively creating them?


* You can see Mr. May’s request to the County Freeholder’s here:

** You can see how the Council treats those opposing their views here:

In Mahwah, the New Year’s Resolutions can be expensive

If Mahwah, NJ thought exclusion and vitriol would be a cost-free endeavor, the past five months have shown them to be sorely mistaken. Ever since the Mahwah Town Council became embroiled in litigation over their creation of ordinances to exclude people they didn’t like from parks (a move they officially rescinded this past week), the topic of costs has been a staple at Town Council meetings.

Residents have questioned appropriated funds for the several law firms representing the Township in the lawsuits alleging claims of animus and discrimination which have been filed by the State of New Jersey as well as a Jewish organization.

And at the last meeting of the year, which took place this past Thursday, the question of costs continued to plaque the council.  Resident Susan Steinberg, who has been an outspoken critic of the Council, again requested information regarding billing and whether extensions to contracts ending in December/January are forthcoming.

But there are now new entries to the costs ledger, Mahwah is now facing which came to light this week.

One additional cost discussed at the December 28th meeting dealt with a $759.87 expenditure by Mayor Laforet and another related to the $17,500 to be made available for the hiring of an investigator to investigate “personnel matters”.  The Council President, Rob Hermansen questioned the $759.87 charge, which the Mayor said related to document production to comply with the subpoena issued by the NJ Attorney General.  He subsequently voted against reimbursing the charge.

FAQ: Frequently Asked Questions about eruvs and related lawsuits

LITIGATION: Click here to see the status of all current Eruv related litigation 

BACKGROUND: Click here to see the developments that led to the litigation

You can watch the exchange here: Read More

Mahwah’s Hateful Double Standard

These videos speak volumes.  This is the state of so-called “leadership” in Mahwah, NJ.

The position of elected “council-member” is a sacred public trust. No one that permits such rhetoric to go by un-rebuked, deserves to remain in that position.

One day, these kinds of demagoguery may be met with approval. They certainly were during my grandparent’s day.

BUT THAT DAY IS NOT TODAY! (and tomorrow ain’t looking so good either)

Robert Hermansen, Jonathan Wong, Janet Ariemma, George Ervin, David May and James Wysocki should follow Steven Sbarra and resign.

In this video, the council nods along as a resident calls Jews “an infection”, then proceeds to chastise Michael Cohen, the East Coast director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center for merely calling out the hatred and vitriol infused in the ordinances the State of NJ has sued Mahwah for passing.

Read More

When Mahwah needed leadership, their leaders chose silence

This Thursday, Mahwah will vote on the second reading of Ordinance 18201, which rolls back the ban on out-of-State residents using Township parks. The ban was put in place after hysterical recountings of a “Jewish invasion” spread throughout social media and within the halls of Town Council meetings.

The vitriol on display since the summer has been deplorable.  It’s good that the pendulum has started to swing back.  But Mawah’s Council President, Robert Hermansen, wants it to stop on a dime — right back in the center where this all began.  That’s not how pendulums work.  In order to reverse course, it’s helpful to know how you got into the ditch. When it comes to confronting the animosity, fear and hatred which is infused in Mahwah’s discriminatory ordinances, the Council has shown no sign of being self-aware.

I and many others have been calling for the repeal of this ill-advised gambit against neighboring Hasidic Jews, since July.  So have a handful of Mahwah residents.

Watch and contrast how the Council treated vile comments from a resident at the last  meeting, with comments from the East Coast Director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center: 

At the December 14th Council meeting, a resident approached me Read More

Mahwah is starting to reap what they have sown

On Thursday evening, Mahwah introduced Ordinance 1820, which rolls back the restrictions on non-NJ residents entering their parks, created by Ordinance 1806 this summer.

Mahwah’s attorney, Brian Chewcaskie called the move a “strategic recommendation by council” and it seems calculated to do whatever is necessary to appease the outgoing attorney general, who filed a 9 count complaint against both the Township and it’s Council individually, for passing animus infused ordinances against Hasidic Jews in neighboring New York communities, that were enjoying the local public parks.

At the meeting, there was no sign or acknowledgment by the Council that these restrictions, which prompted warnings and alarms from every level of government earlier this year, were wrong on their face.  There was no contrition.  There was no Read More

[MAHWAH UPDATE]: Shifting Into Reverse

Mahwah, NJ has been in the spotlight since the summer for passing ordinances meant to exclude Jews from neighboring Rockland County, NY.

In passing Ordinance 1806, the Town sought to ban non-State residents from parks.
In it’s proposed Ordinance 1812, the Town sought to strengthen it’s ban on items affixed to utility poles (as Jewish groups sought to establish an Eruv on them).

This Thursday, according to the agenda posted online, both are being addressed (watch live starting at 7:30pm on our Facebook page).

Ordinance 1806:

Ordinance 1806 changed Section 9-1.3 to remove “and nonresidents alike”, thereby preventing Jewish groups from NY to use the parks. You can see the before and after language here:

Read More

Will the Mahwah Council Surrender?

On Thursday, December 14th, the Mahwah Township Council agenda reads:
Ordinance 1812; Discussion”

It’s unclear what the purpose of this “discussion” will be from the agenda.  Perhaps, it a signal that the day of reckoning is coming to Mahwah, and the Council will tell the Attorney General they will never pass such an ordinance.

If so, they would be wise to also remove Ordinance 1806 (which prevents Jews from neighboring Rockland County from using its parks) at the same time.  After the Chief of Police, County Prosecutor and State Attorney General declared the Township cannot enforce Ordinance 1806, it became the central element of the lawsuit against the Township for discrimination by the NJ State Attorney General.

Since it has no positive benefit (it can’t even be enforced) and it’s the main thrust of the Attorney General’s case against the Town and its council, the smartest move they can make is to eat a little crow and repeal Ordinance 1806 while disavowing Ordinance 1812.

What is Ordinance 1812?

As you may recall from August, this ordinance sought to strengthen the existing sign ordinance within the Township, at the same time as the administration was sending letters to Orange and Rockland Utilities and the Eruv Association, claiming that the Eruv violated the local sign ordinance.

Here is the language of the ordinance as it was proposed back in August:

The language is identical to Upper Saddle River’s Ordinance 16-15 (which is what USR claims is the basis to deny the BREA’s request to install an Eruv) and this discussion in Mahwah was taking place as an Eruv request was pending there.

Here are Mahwah’s 1812 and USR’s 16-15 side by side:

Therefore it came as no surprise that part of the complaint the Attorney General filed against the Township of Mahwah cited Ordinance 1812 as evidence of discriminatory intent.  In fact, on advice of their attorney Brian Chewcaskie, ordinance 1812 was tabled at the meeting of August 10th.  The Minutes which were posted this week reflect that:

And now…. it’s back.

Will Council President Robert Hermansen have the stomach to do the right thing and remove Ordinance 1806 while disavowing Ordinance 1812, after the rank animus exhibited by the council and several hundred residents?

We will see on Thursday.