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Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Yet another reason I’m glad we’re finally home

According to a report I read this morning, the Bloch family, living in a Chicago Condominium building, received some bad news recently from the U.S. Court of Appeals.

Apparently there were three apartments (condos) involved in the case, one owned by the mother and father and two others owned by their two children.

While the family was out at the father's funeral(!), the condo association of the building where they lived decided that this would be the appropriate time to enforce 'Hallway Rule #1' (which prohibits hanging anything outside the doors of the condos) and removed the mezuzot, from the doorposts of all three condos.

The family sued the condo association for damages as well as the right to reaffix the mezuzot to their doorposts as is required under Jewish law. But the court ruled that the condo association was within its rights in having removed the items. In their ruling they wrote:

"The hallway rule ... is neutral with respect to religion. It bans photos of family vacations, political placards, for-sale notices, and Chicago Bears pennants. We cannot create an accommodation requirement for religion. Our job is not to make the law the best it can be, but to enforce the law actually enacted."

However, the judges were not unanimous in their decision. A dissenting judge wrote:

"Hallway Rule 1 operates exactly as a red-lining rule does with respect to the ability of the owner to sell to observant Jews. The [condominium] association might as well hang a sign outside saying 'No observant Jews allowed.'"

Apparently in the Condo Association's response to the original suit, there was some telling language used in response to the family's request for damages. Their brief charged that the Bloch family was trying to extract a "pound of flesh" from the group. In response to this, the dissenting judge noted:

" The phrase appears in a literary work by Shakespeare and refers to the character Shylock, a [Jewish] moneylender who was 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."

I have to say that this sort of thing is one of the many, many reasons we opted to move to Israel. Israel is a pluralistic society that has gone to great lengths to ensure full freedom to other religions to practice and control their own affairs. But Israel is, first and foremost, a (the) Jewish State. Israeli Jews need never worry about nonsense like whether the outward trappings of our religion might need to be hidden away so as not to offend or arouse the goyim.

Israeli Christians can put up crosses and wreaths, Muslims have minarets in all their neighborhoods, and it would be unheard of for an Israeli apartment association to tell tenants that mezuzot are forbidden.

Is it a perfect system? Of course not!

I don't particularly enjoy seeing Jesus nailed to a cross when I walk through Jerusalem's old city… and I certainly could do without hearing our neighboring villages' muezzins screaming about Allah's greatness from their minarets at 4:AM. But I'm sure Christians and Muslims experience a similar moment of 'otherness' when they see the mezuzot affixed to the doorposts of literally every Israeli government agency they visit here. And you know what? I'm perfectly OK with that.

None of Israel's neighbors are nearly as accommodating of religious diversity, and in fact the practice of any faith other than Islam is actually forbidden by law in many places here in the Middle East.

Getting back to the case in Chicago, I'm sure there are other Condo and Co-Op associations around the U.S. that are watching this case quite closely and silently wondering if this might be a handy way of making Jews feel unwelcome in their midst. Personally, I have mixed feelings on the topic.

On the one hand, I hate to see Jews discriminated against in any corner of the world. But on the other, if this sort of nonsense makes even a few Jews wake up and realize that they are still 'strangers in a land that is not theirs', perhaps it will inspire them to consider joining us here in the only place that we have ever been able to truly call home.

Posted by David Bogner on July 15, 2008 | Permalink

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(Having finally got over my embarrassment from your post of yesterday... by the way, you wouldn't want us as next door neighbors of the type that have mutual fences, we would be pathetic at looking after a garden and you'd lose patience when the jungle of weeds started spreading into your garden too)

I had similar thoughts when reading about that mezuza affair. My parents brought me here as a child from a country in which it is quite common for Jews to be ashamed of their Judaism and often actively hide it. I am very grateful I don't have to live there, or anywhere else that I would have to feel apologetic about who I am.

Posted by: Imshin | Jul 15, 2008 1:13:12 PM

As disturbing as this is (thank God I live in a house and not a condo) I found out that after the family made a complaint the condo association decided to make a religious exemption and allowed them to put the mezzuzot back up. I think it was more a case of people not knowing what the object was more than anything. Here is a WSJ article that has that extra bit of information: http://blogs.wsj.com/law/2008/07/11/mezuzah-suit-sparks-ruckus-impassioned-7th-cir-dissent/

Posted by: Seth | Jul 15, 2008 2:11:29 PM

You can see the whole judgment here:

http://abajournal.com/files/Mezuzah.pdf

Interesting to read that another tenant, who had the same issue, has since made aliya...

(read the story here:

http://www.jpost.com/servlet/Satellite?pagename=JPost%2FJPArticle%2FShowFull&cid=1149572645741

)

Posted by: Dave (Balashon) | Jul 15, 2008 2:16:29 PM

There have been a number of other cases where mezuzot have been banned in apartment buildings, even in New York City. In the Hamptons, there is a case pending to try to prohibit the building of an eruv because it would lead to a change in the "character" of the neighborhood. Unfortunately, anti-semitism is still alive and well here in the US, as is all forms of racism and intolerance. But truthfully, David, it's alive and well in Israel too.

Posted by: Raizy | Jul 15, 2008 2:21:13 PM

Yeah, and there people point finger on Germany and Germans for being "korrekte" sticklers. Ha. We're pretty free to affix our Mezuzot wherever we like, also in rented appartments. If we damage the doorframe, however, we are bound to pay for the damage. But then again, it's also customary to affix name plates and door bells to door frames here, so any landlord who'd like to see a Mezuzah go for whatever reasons would hardly win in court.

Posted by: a. | Jul 15, 2008 3:13:10 PM

I don't have any mixed feelings about this one. It is outrageous that someone would choose to remove something from someone else's doorpost. It is a violation of one's home. The manner in which the mezuzot were removed (while the family was at a funeral) is testimony to the vile nature of the act.

I'm all for Aliyah, but I am also for religious freedom and I don't believe that Jews should be persecuted for their beliefs, no matter where they live. (btw, I could give you a LONG list of incidents in Israel in which religious Jews were persecuted for their beliefs).

It would be nice to interperet this case as a simple "misunderstanding about the nature of a mezuzah", but I don't buy it.


Raizy -- don't know about the Hampton's case, but often the most vocal opposition to
setting up an eruv comes from.... non-Orthodox Jews

Posted by: Rivka with a capital A | Jul 15, 2008 4:00:30 PM

Pardon my ignorance, but what is a mezuzot?

Posted by: M. Patterson | Jul 15, 2008 5:16:22 PM

For the benefit of readers who might face similar dilemmas (for example, in some neighborhoods, outdoor mezuzos are often stolen and defiled): In cases like this, one may affix the Mezuzah to the inside frame. One should consult the local Rabbi for particulars.

A Mezuzah is a small piece of parchment, rolled into a cylinder and placed in a case, with verses from the Bible written on it. In Deuteronomy 6:8, we are told to affix this to the frame of the doors of our houses.

Posted by: Barzilai | Jul 15, 2008 6:16:54 PM

Unfortunately, anti-semitism is still alive and well here in the US, as is all forms of racism and intolerance.

Raizy,

That is a misleading statement that doesn't provide any sort of context. The truth is that we have an enormous amount of freedom to live as Jews. Could it be better? Of course it could but for the overwhelming majority of us there are few real cases of antisemitism.

but often the most vocal opposition to
setting up an eruv comes from.... non-Orthodox Jews

Rivka,

I live in what some people would term an Orthodox enclave in Los Angeles and I have seen what you are talking about. Here there are several issues, but the biggest seems to be a battle over the size of houses.

Many members of the community have knocked down their small ranch homes and rebuilt much larger houses. The challenges have come because the lots were not made for houses that large.

Now the new homes have second floors that provide a clear view of their neighbors backyards. There are all sorts of issues tied into this.

But if you ask me the real problem has come because of how some neighbors have approached the other. Both sides are guilty of pointing fingers and dictating NIMBY terms.

Posted by: Jack | Jul 15, 2008 6:28:16 PM

"Israel is a pluralistic society that has gone to great lengths to ensure full freedom to other religions to practice and control their own affairs."

(1) Oh, David -- you're not going to extrapolate from a Chicago condo to calling the USA less pluralistic than Israel, or any other country? Say it ain't so!

(2) They did NOT use the phrase "a pound of flesh" in the complaint?! They didn't! They did?!

(3) Next time, they should inform the association that the mezuzot are some sort of Islamic do-dad -- the association will back off so hard the doors will leave bruises on their hinders.

(4) If ever I become a landlord, I'm going to require all my properties to have mezuzahs (mezuzot?)!

Posted by: Wry Mouth | Jul 15, 2008 6:35:18 PM

O.K., Aliyah is very important, and ideally all Jews should live in Israel, and Israel is obviously the best place to be a Jew, but let's be a tad realistic, here.
America is still a country of magnificent religious tolerance. I realize he's not a Jew, but an African American is running for president on the platform of a major political party. On my block live Jews, Christians, and Muslims in relative harmony (I really don't think that loud party last week was a religious issue).
Yes, this court ruling is offensive, but as far as religious tolerance goes, that probably wouldn't be the strongest issue to the average American Jew when it comes to aliyah.
I also recall entries in this very blog about the differences between shtachim Israelis and Tel Aviv dwellers in their appearance and how people are judged in Israeli society by how they look (wasn't it about a pair of glasses that you bought?).
Also, in your own blog entry, you discuss how you don't particularly love the muzzein calls or the crosses in the Old City. Why not? Religious tolerance is about accepting the right of others to worship as they please, with no strings attached. I would think it wouldn't bother you at all.
I'm hoping my kids will grow up fully accepting the rights of others to worship as they please. Although I can't say I'll always live in the States, I would say that it's a marvelous place to feel welcome as a Jew and to foster religious tolerance in one's children.
I hope this wasn't too acerbic, but that's how I feel.

Posted by: Larry | Jul 15, 2008 6:35:26 PM

larry -- as far as the muezzin calls, the problem as i read it is not that it occurs, but rather that it occurs at 4.15 in the morning. i don't know if your've ever heard it, but it's loud, wailing, and repetitive. and it happens every morning in the pre-dawn hours (as well as four other times in a 24-hour span). neither a mezuza, nor an eruz, nor a crucifix unpleasant as it may be look at simply for the gore factor, infringe on anyone else's right to anything. but when someone else's religious practice infringes on a good night's sleep, every single night, i think the non-practicers have a right to be slightly disturbed.

Posted by: nikki | Jul 15, 2008 6:55:49 PM

let me add that the muezzin is broadcast at top volume from loudspeakers affixed to the top of the minaret to maximize the carriage of it's soundwaves over the city where the minaret's faithful (and neighbors) live.

Posted by: nikki | Jul 15, 2008 6:58:32 PM

corrections:
that would be eruV and mosque's faithful. (sigh) i should type slower.

Posted by: nikki | Jul 15, 2008 7:13:21 PM

This should embarrass all Americans. We were founded on the idea of religious freedom for everyone.

Posted by: David Bailey | Jul 15, 2008 7:16:16 PM

I have never heard of people being told not to put up mezuzot and I live in ... France.

Posted by: Ilana-Davita | Jul 15, 2008 7:20:47 PM

The freedom of Jews to act as they please is based not only on the notion of freedom of religion.

It is also based on the notion that private property is private. The condo board should be free to set any rules it pleases, with the approval of the residents.

There are very good reasons for such rules in condos - not the least being the fire/nuisance hazard of overzealous Xmas decorations. Which explains why the condo board was not too keen on making an exemption on religous grounds.

Yes, it strains common sense to extend that to mezuzot.

But the rule itself - and the lack of religious exception - is perfectly understandable.

Posted by: Ben-David | Jul 15, 2008 7:37:34 PM

"Pardon my ignorance, but what is a mezuzot?"

M. Patterson, your ignorance is granted. Mezuzot (מזוזות) the plural of "mezuzah" (מזוזה).

Posted by: a. | Jul 15, 2008 8:12:24 PM

I haven't lived around a lot of Jewish households, so I had to try to find a mezuzot in real-life size.

Well, it took a while, but I found a picture of the sort of huge, horrible eye-sore that made the condo group so mad that they stole items while a family was at a funeral
http://mizrachi.org/images/mizUk-mezuzot.jpg

....

For anyone who didn't spot it, it's that tiny thing next to the hinge....And smaller than said hinge....

I don't usually assume that folks are malice-- after all, never assume malice where stupidity can explain it-- but with the pound of flesh part? Is ANYONE stupid enough to use that metaphor after stealing Jewish religious articles?

Now, legally, they are correct-- rules say nothing outside the door, then it's no more religious discrimination than a ban on human sacrifice is targeted against Satanists.
Still stupid, and if these "pound of flesh" folks think they're doing any good acting in such an un-Christian way....ugh.

Posted by: Foxfier | Jul 15, 2008 8:17:37 PM

Nikki, you are correct. I reread what Dave wrote, and if the issue is only the hour of the muezzin, then I would have to agree with him (It is the NY equivalent of a car alarm). Also, I think I took the cross remark out of context as well. I think he was merely suggesting that the spectacle did not appeal to him. Mea culpa.

Posted by: Larry | Jul 15, 2008 8:35:41 PM

It wasn't until I returned to the US that I actually saw mezuzos. The Jews I knew in the Netherlands did not put them up - imagine telling the next wave of "fellow citizens" precisely where to find a Jew. San Francisco Jews are more trusting, though.

The pound of flesh statement is outrageous. There is a slight possibility that it was written out of sheer stupidity - I will not underestimate the illiteracy of even lawyers - but the likelihood is that it was a knowing and deliberate use of that phrase. Which in this day and age is flabbergasting.

I really do prefer my bigots to be sub-literate. When they quote Shakespeare and hire lawyers, they become much harder to deal with. And they become more dangerous. The worst anti-Semitism comes from people who actually do know better.

Posted by: The Back of the Hill | Jul 15, 2008 9:15:10 PM

My understanding (as a Chicagoan from another neighborhood) is that after the original suit was filed, the pres. of the condo association tried to tell the family they could put it back up, only to have the family get fined and told to remove it. It was handled poorly and pretty obviously anti-semitic or at least anti-religious and with very nimby terms.

Posted by: AnnieD | Jul 16, 2008 1:49:29 AM

M. Patterson--

A mezuzah (Plural: Mezuzot) is a small scroll containing passages of the Torah, affixed in a suitable container to the doorpost of a Jewish household in accordance with a commandment in the Torah. You and I know that commandment as Deuteronomy 6:9, and the script is Deuteronomy 6:4-9 & 11:13-21.

We don't see a lot of them in southwest Louisiana.

Condo and homeowner associations are rife with inanity such as this, as well as things like forbidding veterans to display flags, and other garbage. It's amazing what happens to the humanity and sense of some folks, given a little authority.

MC

Posted by: mostly cajun | Jul 16, 2008 3:06:12 AM

you might be blowing this story out of proportion, especially by placing an ostensibly idyllic life in israel as the counterpoint.
i'm not saying that there is no A-S in america or that the big IT can never happen here, but whatever crap jews have to put up with in america is today (generally) easily manageable, especially compared with that crap of daily life in israel (as mentioned above, your posts deal with this).
america is by no means the perfect place for the jews, but i don't think you should confuse it with russia, france, etc. either

Posted by: Lion of Zion | Jul 16, 2008 9:27:49 AM

Lion--

I don't think the point of the Chicago incident was a case of anti-semitism as much as it was a "plague on all houses" interpretation of rules. We see a few people with a rulebook interpreting the "rules" as "law".

Having not been to Israel, I cannot comment on the crap in daily life there, but we're working hard on catching up here. This being Louisiana, I am sure that in many ways we might have passed you up.

Cheers-
MC

Posted by: mostly cajun | Jul 16, 2008 3:35:02 PM

Make no mistake, those who opposed Mezuzahs were equally opposed to Crucifixes. Nero fed Christians to the lions for the same reason Claudius drove Jews from Italy. The world hates everyone who doesn't bow to the gods of this world. Christians are not your enemy - we are your brothers.

Posted by: Bob | Jul 17, 2008 6:12:21 AM

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