NY Top Court Reverses Ruling Denying Bloomingburg a Mikveh

NEW YORK -

Denying a developing Jewish village in Sullivan County a permit to build a mikveh is discriminatory and is included in the zoning requirements to allow for religious worship, ruled New York state’s top court on Thursday, reversing a lower court verdict.

The town of Mamakating had banned the mikveh as part of a multipronged challenge to a developing Orthodox neighborhood in the village of Bloomingburg. Residents of the nearby village of Kiryas Joel have been seeking to move there in recent years due to the housing crunch.

Earlier this year, a state Supreme Court judge agreed with Mamakating officials that while a mikveh may be required for religious use, it is not a place of worship. Federal housing laws oblige all town boards to accommodate houses of worship in their local zooming rules.

On Thursday, the New York State Court of Appeals, the state’s highest court, issued a ruling overturning that decision. They said that the zoning bylaw violated federal civil rights and fair housing laws by trying to stop the development of a neighborhood for Orthodox Jews.

“The dictionary meaning of neighborhood place of worship — and consequently the definition of that term under the Town’s zoning law,” the panel wrote in their ruling, “is a building or location set aside in a certain area for any form of religious devotion, ritual or service showing reverence, especially for a divine being or supernatural power.”

Michael Fragin, spokesman for the Bloomingburg Jewish Community Council, said in statement to Hamodia that the court’s decision should end all opposition to the development’s growth.

“Every effort of the town of Mamakating to stymie the growth of the Jewish community in Bloomingburg has been struck down by the courts,” Fragin said. “It’s time for [Mamakating Supervisor] Bill Herrmann and his allies to cease their costly campaign of discrimination and fruitless legal challenges.”

Bloomingburg, a village of about 400 residents, is located in the town of Mamakating, which has 12,000 inhabitants. The Jewish area, built by developer Shalom Lamm, is expected to receive its first 40 residents within weeks. Altogether, 396 people have purchased homes there.

Lamm has built a shul there, and converted an unused spa into a mikveh. This was approved of by the town’s building inspector.

Several residents have attempted to block the new development, called Chestnut Ridge, claiming that the expansion alters their “rural way of life.” At their urging, the zoning board banned the mikveh. Rhetoric has often turned into anti-Semitism.

Assemblyman Dov Hikind applauded the judge’s decision.

“This issue was never about a mikveh,” Hikind, a Brooklyn Democrat who has been involved in Bloomingburg for awhile, said in a statement. “Let’s call it for what it was — an attempt by some to keep certain types of Jews out of their community.”