Weird Jewish stuff
IT IS a battle between environmentalists and an Orthodox Jewish community, pitting freedom of worship against the survival of an endangered bird. And it is taking place on the beach.
The 70 or so Orthodox Jewish families who attend a synagogue on the boardwalk at Venice Beach are seeking permission to string a fishing line around several miles of southern California’s more popular stretches of sand to create a symbolic religious enclosure.
The enclosure, known as an eruv, defines the boundaries of an area within which observant Jews can treat public spaces, shared by all the community, in the same way as private space at home. In practice it gives them the freedom to do many things they cannot otherwise do in public on the Sabbath, such as carry food and push baby buggies and wheelchairs.
But while eruvs run through many cities around the world, including London, nobody in California has attempted to run one along the beach. And so the law laid down in the Torah has come up against an equally immutable edict in the form of the state’s strict environmental code.
Californian law requires the protection of public views to the ocean and the habitats of nesting shore birds, both of which the Coastal Commission has argued would be compromised by the eruv. It fears that endangered Californian least terns that nest along the shore could fly into the fishing line and be killed. They also argue that the 20ft (6m) steel poles carrying the fishing line would obstruct public views. The commission turned down the request for an eruv but the community is not giving up.
Synagogue leaders and coastal officials will sit down this week to try to hammer out a deal. The request for the eruv has caused a clash between two of California’s most dearly held principles: the right to religious freedom and the protection of the environment. And it takes place in a city with America’s second-largest Jewish population and in a state with the toughest environment al laws.
Orthodox Jews spark Venice Beach battle
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