Two shuls too many?

Two shuls too many?

In April, the board of directors of one Orthodox congregation in Teaneck appealed to the Rabbinical Council of Bergen County, the association of local Orthodox rabbis, asking it to prevent the establishment of another Orthodox congregation nearby. According to the complaint, the new congregation "would inevitably (intentionally or unintentionally) compete" for members. The RCBC rejected the appeal several days later, The Jewish Standard learned this week.

Representatives of both congregations — the president and a founding member of Cong. Arzei Darom, Shabsi Polinsky, and the spiritual leader of the relatively new minyan, Rabbi Daniel Feldman — told the Standard that they are working to resolve any differences and accommodate the best interests of the community. Attempts to reach Rabbi Aharon Ciment of Arzei Darom were unsuccessful.

Ciment was retained as the first spiritual leader of Arzei Darom in ‘004, and according to the letter to the RCBC, last year signed a new three-year contract through ‘009. The modern Orthodox unaffiliated congregation was established in ‘001, an outgrowth of a long-standing minyan in the South Cedar section of Teaneck that grew with an influx of Orthodox families.

Feldman, who said he reached out to Arzei Darom, as noted in the Arzei Darom letter to the RCBC, is leading the minyan, now called Torat Chesed, at CareOne Rehabilitation Center on Teaneck Road, five blocks south of Cedar Lane and approximately a 10-minute walk from Arzei Darom, which is preparing a new facility at 7’5 Queen Anne Road for its 80 member-families.

"I wanted to make sure that all aspects of the community are properly accommodated, to make sure that everyone’s needs are addressed," he said, adding, "We are continuing to investigate all possibilities to make sure all parts of the community are served happily."

Although CareOne does not present a long-term solution to Torat Chesed’s needs — it is too small and inconveniently located for many of the shul’s members — for "the time being, we are having a wonderful experience and we are extremely grateful for the opportunity to be there," Feldman said.

Polinsky said he believes that the leadership of Arzei Darom and Feldman are "close to a resolution," but declined to reveal the content of their conversations or speculate on where Torat Chesed might eventually relocate to avoid a geographic conflict. "If everybody works together, I’m sure people can all find a comfortable place to worship that meets their family’s needs and for both of our congregations to grow and to flourish among the many wonderful synagogues in Teaneck," he said, insisting, "This is not an ongoing issue."

A copy of the appeal, bearing the Arzei Darom letterhead and dated April ‘3, ‘007, arrived at the Standard office on Monday in an envelope without a return address. The envelope was postmarked 11 p.m., June ‘3, ‘007.

Included with the four-page document, which indicated it had originally been hand-delivered to the RCBC office in Englewood, was a copy of the RCBC’s reply, dated April ‘6, ‘007, from the organization’s president, Rabbi Steven Pruzansky. Pruzansky, who did not return telephone calls from the Standard, is due to step down from the post at the end of the month. Copies of the appeal had also been sent to Rabbis Yaakov Neuburger, spiritual leader of Cong. Beth Abraham in Bergenfield, and Laurence Rothwachs, of Cong. Beth Aaron in Teaneck. Neither returned calls seeking comment.

In its letter, Arzei Darom’s board requested and urged "the RCBC to protect Arzei Darom and to prevent the establishment — even for a purported "trial period" — of a new, competing congregation in the vicinity of Arzei," citing a teshuva by the late Orthodox scholar Rabbi Moshe Feinstein detailing the prohibitions of hasagat gvul. The halachic issue, which prohibits unfair competition in business, rests on a talmudic argument against encroachment on a neighbor’s property that may threaten the neighbor’s livelihood. It is based on a Torah commandment against moving the boundary marker of your neighbor (Deuteronomy 19).

In the Arzei Darom letter, the board alleged that Feldman’s minyan had attempted to combine forces with another, informal minyan meeting in the neighborhood south of Cedar Lane, composed predominantly of former members of Arzei Darom. Feldman’s minyan, which consists of between 50 and 100 Shabbat regulars, had, several weeks earlier, left its home at the Jewish Center of Teaneck, where it had been davening for several years, after JCT’s spiritual leader, Rabbi Lawrence Zierler, objected to the continuation of a mechitza minyan in the building led by another rabbi, according to various sources.

This week, Polinsky described Arzei Darom’s appeal to the RCBC as a search for advice and guidance, not an effort to have the RCBC shut down Feldman’s minyan in the neighborhood. "We’re working amicably and privately with Rabbi Feldman, as the RCBC directed us to do," he said.

Polinsky said he had no information about the informal minyan. Feldman stressed that Torat Chesed had no relationship with the informal minyan.

The RCBC noted in its letter to Arzei Darom, that Feinstein’s teshuva applied to a "privately-owned shul (owned and operated by the rabbi in question)" and was not relevant in a communal context.

"We wish to reiterate our long-standing policy that encourages the development of shuls throughout our community. Such a policy has historically fostered the growth of the Bergen County Jewish community and contributed greatly to its success and prosperity," the letter from Pruzansky stated.

"Although every situation is different," observed Rabbi Shmuel Goldin, a past president of the RCBC and spiritual leader of Cong. Ahavath Torah in Englewood, "the general principle when it comes to opening congregations is that there is no such thing as hasagat gvul. It is not our position to discourage shuls from opening, although," Goldin conceded, "in general it is best to maximize geographic boundaries" in the interest of avoiding disputes and expanding the community.

Still, he said, "there could be good reasons for opening synagogues within a short distance of each other."

A number of years ago, congregants from Ahavath Torah broke off to establish East Hill Synagogue, a move Goldin said he supported to accommodate the needs of those who lived "a distance away from us."

Regarding Arzei Darom’s petition to the RCBC, Goldin, who noted he was not familiar with the specifics of this case, said, "Everyone in a synagogue has the right to question whether the opening [of another shul nearby] is wise and to have a discussion about whether there will be more dispute [as a result] or amity and the expansion of the community."

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