Bergen County Prosecutor bars enforcement of anti-chassidic Mahwah ordinance

Bergen County Prosecutor bars enforcement of anti-chassidic Mahwah ordinance

Town law passed this month bars use of parks by non-state residents

Bergen County Prosecutor Gurbir Grewal
Bergen County Prosecutor Gurbir Grewal

Sorry, Mahwah.

A law passed earlier this month and set to take effect today, which bars non-New Jersey residents from using the town’s recreational facilities, raises constitutional concerns and should not be enforced.

That’s the message Bergen County Prosecutor Gurbir Grewal sent to Mahwah Police Chief James Batelli today.

The letter agreed with worries raised by Mr. Batelli, who wrote to the prosecutor earlier this week. The county prosecutor oversees all county law enforcement, including local municipal police.

New Jersey police officers are barred from considering “a person’s race or ethnicity” when considering whether he or she might have violated the law. The Mahwah police department, however, reports having received many calls from residents asking that the ordinance against non-New Jerseyans be used against “individuals perceived by the callers to be out-of-state members of the Hasidic Jewish community.”

For a police officer to target Jews when questioning park users for their residence status conceivably could be a crime, the prosecutor wrote.

Meanwhile, portions of the eruv in Mahwah — were damaged, in what his department is investigating as a bias crime. (The eruv, a legal fiction enclosing an area within which observant Jews can carry on Shabbat, is a contentious new issue dividing the town.)

Joshua Cohen, the Anti-Defamation League’s New Jersey regional director, issued a statement about the eruv.

“We are deeply disturbed by the apparent targeting of this symbolic religious boundary of importance to observant Jews,” the statement said. “We are concerned that the township’s decision to order removal of the eruv has reinforced and stoked misunderstanding, fears and even hatred towards Mahwah’s Orthodox Jewish community.”

“We are pleased that the Mahwah Police Department is investigating this incident as a potential hate crime. Community leaders and elected officials should come together to condemn this incident and commit to making strides to foster an inclusive and welcoming community.”