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Hasidic Jews Fight NY Village Code Barring Rabbinical College

Several Hasidic rabbis have gone to federal court for the
right to build a rabbinical college that would violate zoning laws in a
suburban village.

In a lawsuit filed late Monday, the rabbis and the
Rabbinical College of Tartikov Inc. claim that zoning regulations in Pomona,
30 miles from New York City, have
been used to exclude the planned college and are “the direct result of
fierce anti-Hasidic opposition in the local community.”

The plaintiffs have not even tried for variances because village
leaders “have made it clear they would never approve construction of this
college,” said plaintiffs’ attorney Paul Savad.

The village, which has about 3,200 residents, recently
refused to allow the sponsors to submit plans without going through the zoning

Village attorney Doris Ulman said the complaint “is
full of innuendo, undocumented statements, misstatements and lies,”
including some about her. She said the plaintiffs have no standing to sue
because they cannot show they’ve been harmed.

Ulman said it was difficult to comment on the planned
rabbinical college because village leaders have yet to see any official plans
or applications. She said the complaint filed Monday, which mentions plans for
“places of worship, religious educational facilities, religious courts,
libraries of Jewish texts and accessory student housing,” is the most
detailed document they have.

The plaintiffs are seeking housing for 250 students and
their families.

The 130-acre site is currently zoned for single-family
homes, although a religious camp is using the property legally, Ulman said. The
rabbinical group should go through normal channels before deciding whether to
sue, she said.

Ulman said village officials have never “discussed or
said or done anything to indicate that they are against any religion or any
religious use.” She said ordinances have recently been liberalized to
accommodate yeshivas and dormitories.

Savad, the plaintiff’s attorney, said, however, that while
village ordinances allow for zoning variances for accredited educational
institutions, the rabbinical college would not be accredited because there is
no accrediting body for such schools.

So the plaintiffs are invoking a federal law that has been
used successfully in the region before. Known as the Religious Land Use Act, it
says a religious organization that would otherwise be denied can win a variance
if there is no compelling reason for a denial.

Another member of the plaintiffs’ legal team, Roman Storzer,
said most of the rabbinical students would be from the Hasidic Orthodox sects,
though the college would be open to all Orthodox students. He said the Hasidic
community needs the college because the rabbis who go through its 15-year
training program would address a “dire” shortage of judges for
religious courts that resolve issues including marriage, divorce, burial and

The teachers, the students and the people who use the judges
would be engaging in religious activity, he said.

“We need to stop the Village
of Pomona, and municipalities
across the country, from using their zoning power as a tool to control
unpopular religious groups,” Storzer said.

Another plaintiffs’ attorney, John Stepanovich, said his
clients are seeking to exercise their religious rights.

“They want to be good neighbors, but they’re not too
concerned that their neighbors won’t like them or don’t like them,” he

The Religious Land Use Act has been used in at least
three other lawsuits in the region, supporting a Jewish school’s new building
in Mamaroneck, a Hasidic boarding school in Airmont and a residence
in Suffern that would allow Orthodox Jews to visit a hospital on the Sabbath
without breaking their law against driving. Decisions favoring the two schools
are being appealed, and the Suffern case has not gone to court.

– Associated Press

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