Teaneck shul’s suit to go to trial

Teaneck shul’s suit to go to trial

A long-running battle between a Teaneck synagogue and the town will run a little longer.

A New Jersey Superior Court judge has ruled that the suit against the town by Congregation Ohr Saadya – formerly known as Etz Chayim, and legally known as 554 Queen Anne Road, Inc. – should proceed to jury trial.

He rejected requests from both sides for summary judgment, ruling that the facts at issue must be decided by a jury.

The battle began in 2007, when Etz Chayim bought a house that it rented to its rabbi, Daniel Feldman. It sought and received approval to enlarge the building in what it termed a “family room addition,” and denied at the time that it was planning anything other than a private prayer group.

As neighbors who opposed the enlargement of the building and its use as a synagogue noted, however, one of the architect’s files for the addition was labeled “Teaneck Temple.”

The conflict seemed to have concluded in September 2010, when the synagogue received the zoning variances necessary to operate as a synagogue in exchange for stipulations including a restriction on weekday services and the length of Shabbat kiddushes.

But the synagogue turned around and filed suit against the town, saying that the restrictions were null because it agreed to them under duress, and because they violated the federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, which restricts local laws that place a “substantial burden” on religious practice.

Unless the case is settled before trial, a jury will be asked to decide questions set out by Judge Alexander H. Carver III in his ruling earlier this month. They include: What restrictions did the congregation agree to? Were the restrictions agreed to under duress and therefore invalid? Are the conditions more severe than those placed on other non-profit institutions operating in residential neighborhoods? And are those restrictions legal under the federal law?

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