Church and state and erecting convenient boundaries

As an evangelical Christian, I can appreciate the legal pretense of an Orthodox Jewish eruv.

I had never heard of such a thing until reading Michael Chabon’s brilliant alternate-history detective novel The Yiddish Policemen’s Union. Yet it turns out that I’d spent most of the 1990s living within the sprawling Lower Merion eruv, and much of the next decade commuting into and out of and through the huge eruvin of Center City and University City. (The blue line on the map in this post denotes Philly’s Center City eruv.)

Here’s a helpful description of an eruv from the Jewish Press last month:

Jewish law prohibits carrying an object from a private domain to a public domain (or vice versa) or within a public domain on the Sabbath. … The creation of an eruv establishes, where possible, an extended private domain in which such carrying is permissible.

The rules regarding “carrying” between “domains” on the Sabbath are complicated, but deadly serious. Those rules are so extensive that it would be easy to violate them unwittingly or unintentionally. They also forbid some things that would seem necessary for anyone traveling to or from services on the Sabbath. Say you have severe asthma or extreme allergies and need to carry an inhaler or an EpiPen with you at all times. The law forbids you to carry such things from one domain (your home) to another (the street leading to your local synagogue) on the Sabbath. An eruv technically encompasses the entire area within a single domain, turning whole neigborhoods or cities into one “courtyard,” thus permitting carrying within the eruv without violating the law.

The idea shows an enormous, immersive respect for biblical law while simultaneously showing an enthusiastic willingness to elude that same law through ingeniously creative means. In a sense, the elaborate nature of the law-evading construct becomes an expression of reverence for the very law it evades. Technically, the law forbids you from carrying from point A to point B. The eruv creates a legal fiction whereby technically you can. The lawyerliness of the latter technicality pays tribute to the deep sincerity of the former.

In Chabon’s novel, the community’s dependence on the eruv and its keepers enables crafty, crooked men to wield power over others by making them the arbiters of who is or is not within the bounds of the law. They become the gatekeepers of others’ righteousness.

Like I said, this all seems terribly familiar to those of us who have lived within the subculture of white evangelicalism. So much so that it’s tempting to abandon the original point of this post and just go galloping off into exploring the eruv as a metaphor for white evangelicalism in America.

But here’s the key thing: The boundaries of an eruv have to be physical, tangible and real. They’re nearly invisible, even if you know where to look and you know what you’re looking for. Walk along Poplar Street in Philadelphia and look very carefully and you may spot the boundaries of the blue line on the map here — a length of wire, a bit of thin pipe affixed to a utility pole. The lines these boundaries draw enclose a fictive space, but the lines themselves must be real.

There are, of course, many, many rules about the rules that allow one to abide by the rules. (Familiar, all too familiar.)

Ari Kohen draws our attention to a battle over a proposed eruv in Westhampton Village, New York:

The eruv would consist of about 60 10-to-15-foot-long, five-eighths-of-an-inch-wide PVC strips affixed to utility poles, and painted to blend in with them. They would be difficult to see, and would be shorter than the poles themselves.

That’s how these things work. If you don’t know it’s there, you’d never know it was there. You can’t see it, and unless you’re an Orthodox Jew it doesn’t affect your life at all in any way.

And yet many of the residents of Westhampton Village — including the mayor — want to prevent the Orthodox community from constructing its eruv. They offer two reasons for this. The first is an attempt at a principled-sounding argument. The second is an accidental admission of simple discrimination (which is why Kohen’s post is titled, “Oops, You Said the Quiet Part Out Loud“).

Let’s address the supposedly principled argument first. Out in the Hamptons, they’re arguing that an eruv somehow constitutes an establishment of religion in violation of the First Amendment:

In 2012, the Quogue board of trustees ruled that constructing an eruv “would very likely constitute a violation of the establishment clause” of the Constitution, and denied the application. Southhampton and Westhampton Village have not made a formal ruling, but Mr. Teller, the mayor, said he agreed with that reasoning.

“It’s about the separation of church and state,” he said.

That’s ridiculous. It ignores the existence of eruvin in communities all over the United States, none of which have been challenged, let alone ruled against, as any sort of religious establishment. Because they are not any sort of religious establishment — the state is not involved, and they do not affect anyone except the members of the Orthodox community. They are not noticed by anyone except the members of the Orthodox community.

If the city were being asked to fund the construction of the eruv, that would be a violation of the Establishment Clause. If the existence of the eruv meant that suddenly every resident had to begin abiding by the Orthodox Jewish restrictions against carrying on the Sabbath, then that would clearly be unconstitutional. But the town is not being asked to pay for any of this, only to allow its existence. And none of the non-Orthodox residents of the town will be asked or required even to acknowledge its presence.

So what’s really behind the opposition to the Westhampton Village eruv? The ugly truth seems to be that because it would make life easier for Orthodox Jewish residents, it might attract Orthodox Jewish residents, and the people of Westhampton Village don’t want those kind of people around. The law might not allow Westhampton to prohibit Orthodox Jews from building a synagogue, but perhaps the law can be manipulated to prevent them from being able to get to that synagogue. And if so maybe they’ll all just go away.

It’s discrimination, plain and simple. It’s no different from the anti-Islamic bigotry opposing the “Ground-Zero mosque” (which was neither a mosque, nor very near Ground Zero) or opposing the mosque in Murfreesboro, Tenn.

That would be a harsh accusation to level against Mayor Teller and his constituents, but they’ve already confessed to it. As Kohen said, they unintentionally “said the quiet part out loud”:

Estelle Lubliner, another Jewish member of the anti-eruv group, said she feared that the eruv “will make more Orthodox people come in, and it’s not right to the history of these towns.”

“Why are they forcing the community to change?” she added.

…  [M]any in Westhampton Village — a diverse mix of Catholics, Protestants and Jews — say they fear the prospect of more Orthodox Jews moving in if the eruv is constructed. The mayor, Conrad Teller, estimated that perhaps 90 to 95 percent of Westhampton Village is now against it. “It’s divisive,” he said. “I believe they think somebody’s trying to push something down their throats.”

Storekeepers on Main Street have voiced practical concerns, because Orthodox Jews traditionally don’t spend money on the Sabbath. “Retail is hard enough as it is,” said Anick Darbellay, sitting in her dress shop on Friday. “I don’t want to have to shut down on Saturdays. Have you been to the Five Towns?” she asked, referring to an Orthodox Jewish enclave in Nassau County. “That’s what happened there.”

That’s just straight-up We Don’t Want You Here. It’s explicit bigotry, explicitly stated.

Kohen comments:

It’s absolutely bizarre — and very sad — that, rather than attempting to learn something about those whose beliefs are different, the majority population immediately acted like there was some sort of terrible threat to their country and their way of life.

Yep, the majority population perceives that a minority constitutes “some sort of terrible threat to their country and their way of life,” and so they impose legal restrictions against that minority, all the while trumping up disingenuous arguments that such restrictions against the freedom of the minority are necessary to protect the “religious liberty” of the majority. The very existence of the minority, the majority says, is “divisive.”

The eruv is a legal fiction that allows Orthodox Jews to carry on the Sabbath. The “religious liberty” argument of the privileged majority is a legal fiction that allows them to impose their will on others while pretending they’re making a principled stand for freedom.

The former is benign and unobtrusive. The latter is not.



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  • walden

    well, many of the opponents may have bad motives (apparently).

    But there is a real issue here, if I understand this correctly.
    What if, instead of PVC poles, another religious group wanted to affix crosses to the public utility poles in the public right of way?  Or prayer flags?  Flying Spaghetti monster logos?  Westboro Baptist flagpoles?  Once the public right of way is used for something that is not for the public benefit, but rather for communicative purposes — the door is open.

  • Shira Coffee

    Thing is, there is no communication involved. It’s designed to be unobtrusive, to the point where, unless you are very well informed and know what you are looking for and where to look, you would never know it’s there. The folks who care about eruv do not WANT anyone else to join their ranks, truthfully. They just want to be able to walk around with things in their pockets.

  • walden

     I understand the “intent” is to blend in.  But were I so inclined, after the installations occurred (even if painted to be the same color as the poles), I could easily petition for the village to allow my clients to install crosses of a similar size and dimension, flush with the light poles, and painted the same color as the previously installed eruv markers. Legally there would be no way for the village to prevent this.  Then, symbols of other types — religious and otherwise.   And as a legal matter, these items are communicative (even if the communication is only to the faithful).   What is going on, is the difference between neighborliness (sure, put your religious items where you need them, cause that’s being neighborly), versus the rule of law, which presupposes a lot of interactions that may or may not be neighborly.

  • Geds

     I understand the “intent” is to blend in.  But were I so inclined, after
    the installations occurred (even if painted to be the same color as the
    poles), I could easily petition for the village to allow my clients to
    install crosses of a similar size and dimension, flush with the light
    poles, and painted the same color as the previously installed eruv

    You could easily petition the village to do that now.  People petition for stuff like that all the time.  Well, maybe not stuff like your example, because that’s hyper specific, but things like Christmas displays on public land happen all the time and most cities have a petition system in place.

    However, you’re taking a long walk out into left field to make your point.  I’d be truly surprised to find out that there’s precedence for this action.

    Legally there would be no way for the village to prevent this. 
    Then, symbols of other types — religious and otherwise.

    Sure there would.  Seems to me from Fred’s description that the markers for eruv are specifically chosen to be unobtrusive and non-specifically religious in nature.  A cross is neither of those things.  I’m not a lawyer, but I’m pretty sure that’s a defensible difference.

    There’s a difference between government accommodation of religion and government establishment of religion.  Seems to me that a defense could be mounted on that line.

  • MikeJ

     That’s the reasoning of a smart assed 12 year old. Plenty of people are capable of differentiating between, “we want to do something unobtrusive for our religious practice”and “we want to act like assholes because you haven’t narrowly tailored your rules to prevent this particular flavor of assholism.”

  • Daughter

    True this. Because there is no reason for Christians to put up something similar (unless somehow they’re deceived into thinking they’re hiding in catacombs), so the only reason for a Christian to petition for something similar is to be an asshole.

    Reminds me a little of the guy who decided to start a “Christian salt” company because he was offended that so many cooking show chefs used kosher salt.

  • Tricksterson

    First off the markers are not themselves Jewish symbols as a cross most defintely is of Christianity.  Second the poles are for a practical purpose whereas a cross would serve not puurpose but advertising, which is the opposite of what the Orthodox Jews want.  if the were wanting to put up Stars of David as boundary markers, you’d have an argument.  As it is you don’t.

  • SisterCoyote

    But they’re not religious symbols. If they were asking to paint a religious symbol on the utility poles to mark the border of their eruv, that would be a reasonable argument. But it’s something that’s all but invisible unless you’re an Orthodox Jew. I’ve worked in to a town with a significant population of Orthodox Jews for about six years now, and used to pass families walking to synagogue every week on my way to work. So there’s almost certainly an eruv somewhere, here, but I have no idea where, or what it looks like, or what poles it’s on, and I’ve probably walked past it, across it, through it more times than I can count.

    So – no, there is no real issue. Read the arguments, they’re not just “bad motives,” they’re flat-out bigotry. “We don’t want more Orthodox Jews in our neighborhood.” That is what they are saying. That is wrong, plain and simple.

    [edited because of typos. bah.]

  • walden

     I’m really not quarreling with the fact that, as reported, the reasons are bad, and that arguments are being made by bigots with bigoted intent.

    However, were I the solicitor for the village or town, I would have to advise them that if they permitted these installations in the public right of way that they would have no grounds whatever to prevent any other such installations (with the exception of making reasonable rules as to dimensions/color to prevent accidents from distracted drivers).   The next application that came in — for crosses or FSMs or whatever — would have to be granted on similar terms. And if the town denied the subsequent application they would be sued under the 14th and 1st amendments and RLUIPA, and would lose and be required to permit the installations and pay the attorneys fees of the prevailing party.

    This is perhaps sad and unfortunate, but the town’s legal advisors are 100 percent correct.

    I also know that there are eruvs in some places in NYC, perhaps elsewhere in the US.  

  • Dave

     There are indeed eruvim (eruvot?) outside of NYC. Any community with a high density of Orthodox Jews probably has one. They’re extremely convenient.

    And the notion that, because a town has allowed an Orthodox Jewish community to establish an unobtrusive eruv, they would consequently be required to subsequently allow other religions to put up equally unobtrusive items, and that this is some kind of a problem, just cracks me up.

    I mean… horrors! If we allow this, Christians might start putting up denominational decorations on their holidays, and then where would we be?

  • Jenny Islander

    Oh yes.  The Pennsic War, an annual massive gathering of the Society for Creative Anachronism that has been compared to a medieval fair, has an eruv every year.  I don’t know whether there are eruvim (sp.?) at other SCA wars, but it wouldn’t surprise me if there were.

  • Katie

     I would assume that they are present at any camping event where Orthodox Jews are in attendance.  I know of at  one gentleman who was in the habit of arriving as early as possible on Friday to set up his tent, so as to be done with work before sundown, and he’d mark out an area that he and his friends were camping in so he’d have an eruv. 

    Pennsic is a bit unique in the SCA for the sheer number of religious observances that happen on site, which is partially because it goes on for longer than most SCA events, has more people  and is isolated enough that its easier to arrange to have services on site than it is to travel offsite.

  • Dave

    > eruvim (sp.?)

    I forget whether eruv is a masculine-gendered or feminine-gendered noun, so I’m not sure if it’s eruvimor eruvot. I’m pretty sure it’s the former, though. As far as correct spelling goes, well, it’s a Hebrew word, so it’s a transliteration however you spell it, which to my mind means anything that sounds about right is equally correct. (ayruv is arguably superior.) But  eruv is conventional.

  • Barry_D

     Are you actually ignorant of these matters?

  • Dave


    Are you actually ignorant of these matters?

    Disqus tells me that this question was addressed to me, but isn’t telling me what it’s in response to. Assuming it’s meant as a real question and not a rhetorical one: if you can clarify which matters you’re referring to, I’ll clarify the state of my ignorance regarding them.

  • EllieMurasaki

    Email notifs tell me ‘Are you actually ignorant of these matters?’ is a response to the comment ending ‘If we allow this, Christians might start putting up denominational decorations on their holidays, and then where would we be?’

  • Dave

    Ah! Thanks.

    Perhaps Barry is asking whether I was being ironic?
    If so: yes, Barry, I was being ironic. Thanks for asking.

  • Lorehead

    Supposing that happened, what harm would result?  Next to the eruv pole, there’s a small cross, also painted the same color.  And maybe below that, a picture of some family’s missing pet.  Why is this a serious problem?

  • Barry_D

     “But they’re not religious symbols.”

    What are they?

  • SisterCoyote

    H’m. That’s a fair point. They’re religious symbols to the Jews who depend on them and know what they mean – to anyone who doesn’t, which is most of us/the rest of us, they’re pieces of PVC pipe. Which doesn’t usually compel people to fall to their knees and declare faith.

  • Ross

     Yeah, but to what extent is that true in a way that “But to anyone who isn’t a christian, it’s just a wooden lower-case ‘T'” isn’t?

  • Lorehead

    Any symbol has significance for a particular culture, not universally.  It’s like the promo for The Sims 2 that showed a family picture with the wife playfully giving her husband rabbit-ears.  People from Latin countries were outraged that she would so gleefully, and right next to their children, give him cuckold horns, which could only mean she was boasting of having an affair.

    For the record, if the city allows this, it probably also does have to allow equally-unobtrusive crosses, but in America today, most people probably wouldn’t recognize part of an eruv, and those who would would probably think, “Oh, that’s there for practical reasons, because it makes the lives of Orthodox Jews easier,” not, “The Jews are asking me to convert, or marking territory, and the city is endorsing that message.”

  • Dave

    For the record, if the city allows this, it probably also does have to allow equally-unobtrusive crosses,

    …but most of us non-Christian Americans are so accustomed to being inundated by Christian symbology in every aspect of our supposedly secular pluralist culture  that we probably wouldn’t even notice the difference. What’s another teacup of water to a drowning man?

    Heck, a non-obtrusive Christian symbol would be a noteworthy show of restraint.

    (And yes, I understand that once a particular bit of Christian symbology gets established pervasively the standard next rhetorical move is to declare that it isn’t really a Christian symbol, but rather a secular one, and therefore isn’t really alienating or excluding of non-Christians. I would appreciate being spared that move here.)

  • Lorehead

    You might have missed my edit, but, no, that’s not my argument.  (I’m Jewish myself, by the way.)  If you let everyone put up their religious symbols together, equally, side by side, plus the FSM as a tongue-in-cheek statement by the atheists, that would be a strong statement of pluralism.  So what would be the problem?

  • Dave

    No problem at all, I’m happy to let them do so.

    I just think it’s absurd that when the subject turns to non-Christian religious symbolism in the public square so many people end up saying things like “well, how would you feel if we were talking about Christian symbols?”, and more generally end up pretending that we aren’t already swimming in Christian religious symbolism in the public square.

    Usually I’m able to take that sort of blind-privileged-why-isn’t-there-a-white-history-month? stuff in stride, but today I seem to be really irritated by this particular case of it. Don’t know why.

    That said, I should apologize for not being clearer that I wasn’t putting that
    argument in your mouth, I was just trying to forestall it more
    generally. In retrospect, I’m not really responding to your post at all, and I don’t actually have any problem with what you’re saying, and I should have been clearer about that as well.


  • phantomreader42

    Ross asked: Yeah, but to what extent is that true in a way that “But to anyone who
    isn’t a christian, it’s just a wooden lower-case ‘T'” isn’t?

    Has “But to anyone who isn’t a christian, it’s just a wooden lower-case ‘T'” EVER been true, to ANY extent?  Has there EVER been a time when a claim of that form has been made that wasn’t a self-serving lie for jesus? 

  • Tricksterson

    Uless you’re a LARPe, then maybe, especially if there’s duct tape involved as well.

  • EllieMurasaki

    Are candles religious? What about bread, water, wine?

    Nope, but they’re all used in Catholic services.

  • stardreamer42

     I don’t understand this argument. Are you seriously trying to claim that a piece of PVC pipe is the same kind of religious symbol as a cross or a prayer flag? It’s not a religious symbol at all! You find me a religion that prays to pieces of PVC pipe, and I’ll allow that you might have a point. Until then, not so much.

  • Lorehead

    The article says that the markers are specifically designed to be invisible and unobtrusive.

  • aunursa

    I appreciate when our host posts items that concern Jews and Judaism on days other than Shabbat (Friday night and Saturday) when observant Jews don’t use the internet.

    Here is a similar story of an eruv in Palo Alto, Calif. — that took eight years to receive city approval.

  • Shira Coffee

    I love this post. You have no idea how incredibly rare it is for a Christian to “get” Jews!

  • Chris Hall

    Just a brief Jewish law comment — while Fred’s post is mostly right on the money, the example of Jews being unable to carry things like an inhaler or an EpiPen on Shabbat is not really correct. The requirement to protect your own life and health (and the life and health of others) overrides just about every other Jewish law – including Shabbat. So most Rabbis would insist that you do carry medicine on Shabbat if your life would be in danger without it.

  • sarah

    Huh. That’s near where I grew up — South Shore, Nassau County, not the Hamptons.  And the Philly map that Fred post encompasses my work place (but not my home, as I live in West Phila).

  • sarah

     *posted. Can I edit?

  • aunursa

    From Wikipedia

    In Tenafly Eruv Association v. Borough of Tenafly (309 F.3d 144), Judge Ambro, writing for the United States Third Circuit Court of Appeals, held that Eruv Association members had no intrinsic right to add attachments to telephone poles on Borough property and that the Borough, if it wished, could enact a general, neutral ordinance against all attachments to utility poles that could be enforced against the eruv. However, Judge Ambro held that in this case the Borough had not enacted a genuinely general or neutral ordinance because it permitted a wide variety of attachments to utility poles for non-religious purposes, including posting signs and other items. Because it permitted attachments to utility poles for secular purposes, the court held, it could not selectively exclude attachments for religious purposes. The United States Supreme Court declined to hear the case. It was subsequently cited as precedent by a number of other federal courts deciding disputes between an eruv association and a local government.

  • walden

     Thanks for the description of the Third Circuit case.  And this really is the point.  Most municipalities do not allow attachments to utility poles (except public safety signs) — although honored in the breach (“lost dog”, “we buy gold”) in a lot of places.  If they do allow it, they can’t discriminate based on content.

    And if they don’t usually allow it but vote to approve it, they can’t discriminate based on content thereafter.

  • Barry_D

     Yes, which includes removing such markers along with accumulated ‘lost dog’ signs in routine cleaning and maintenance.

  • walden

    I should say that the town could decide to allow this.  It would not be unlawful for them to allow it (not really an ‘establishment’ violation).
    But if they do allow it, they must be prepared for whatever follows.  (And maybe nothing would follow — maybe no-one else would apply for use of the right-of-way. But they would need to take this into account.)

  • Kubricks_Rube

    These are not random religious markings. They serve an integral purpose in allowing certain citizens to practice their faith. The same cannot be said for random crosses or FSM pennants on public property.

  • quince

    Just a clarification quibble on this section:
    “Say you have severe asthma or extreme allergies and need to carry an inhaler or an EpiPen with you at all times. The law forbids you to carry such things from one domain (your home) to another (the street leading to your local synagogue) on the Sabbath.”

    This isn’t actually true.  For one, to preserve life takes precedence over all other laws — Pikauch Nefesh.  This is why people with severe diabetes aren’t supposed to fast as they observe Yom Kippur, for example.  This would seem to imply that there is an obligation to carry an inhaler or an EpiPen, even on the Sabbath, even in the absence of an eruv.  This is the view of most rabbis, though I suppose there may be some who would hold that you should just stay home rather than attend services.  

    But let’s suppose there isn’t the life-saving condition — for example, suppose you are talking about your keys or an ID card or something else you need to carry with you.  People get around the prohibition on carrying by modifying the attaching these items to a “Shabbos belt” — the idea is that  if the key is an integral part of a piece of clothing, you aren’t “carrying” it.  Presumably you could do the same thing with an EpiPen.

  • Veylon

    The eruv might be better off petitioning local businesses along the same stretch for the right to erect similar such blended-in markings. As a couple others have noted, this would unfortunately open the door to a lot nonsense from a lot of other groups. If the government lets one group do, they’ll have to let everyone do it.

  • fraser

     Well if Christians want to put up colored tape or stuff that doesn’t look like religious symbols at all, more power to them.

  • Peter

    Is there a reason they have to attach something?  I’m assuming it must be physical to portray the ‘courtyard’ effect Fred mentioned.  Also, do they explicitly need permission, or are they just asking to be nice? 

    Otherwise, just hit the appropriate poles with a touch of spray paint, up high where people can’t easily reach it.  My guess is, it would be there uncontested for a long long long time.

    Or, perhaps, if it’s a generally Orthodox neighborhood, there may be enough neighbors to keep the decorations on private property and still have it function as intended.

    I’m trying to think of a similar thing in the Christian realm to prove my point, but I can’t really come up with one.

    For example, would you allow a private group to install a makeshift stone altar, not religiously adorned in any way, just some stones set specifically to help people pray, if they want to, near the front of the courthouse?  Off to the side, with nothing to call attention to them, except the occasional person praying on them.

    Would you allow a private religiously-affiliated group to install a monument to the aborted unborn?  It would, again, be off to the side, have no markings, perhaps make it a simple granite cube with a huge gash in it.  It’s not even specifically religious, per se.  The government would have nothing do with it, except to allow it to exist on clearly government-owned land.

    Would you allow a private group to affix a simple , unobtrusive black band around utility poles, to protest abortion?  Again, there’s nothing specifically religious about it.

    I don’t know.  I’m not claiming these ideas are completely analogous in any way, but I’m trying to think of similar ‘non-infringing’ uses that one may still consider to violate the church/state separation.

    Maybe the fact that I’m stretching shows that it’s probably okay.
    I don’t know.

  • Lunch Meat

    Private citizens are allowed to put crosses and other decorations on sidewalks and highways to commemorate those who have been killed in accidents, right? In most places in the US?

  • Jenny Islander

    Not so much “allowed” as “most places don’t kvetch if they do.”  Anchorage has/had (this may have changed) forcibly removed all roadside memorials and replaced them with official signs that read “[NAME OF DECEASED]–DON’T DRINK AND DRIVE” or something similar.  The rationale: Roadside memorials may be distracting to drivers.

    Replacing “Flicker of non-sign-shaped object at edge of vision, it isn’t moving, I’m going too fast to look at it, ignore,” with “Hey, wait, that’s a sign, what’s it saying, do I need to be warned about something?” *cranes neck* seems counterintuitive to me.

    My town has never prosecuted or removed roadside memorials and the presence of such a memorial has yet to cause an accident.

  • Jchrishall

    Actually, states and local governments are trying to figure out how to sympathetically reduce the number of these ad hoc memorials.  Some states/localities have had to physically remove them. 

  • Jim Roberts

    Peter, many large courthouses, most hospitals, the vast majority of jails and various other secular buildings don’t just have an altar but an actual chapel, usually conveniently labelled “chapel” right on the door. The altar would likely be superfluous.

  • AnonaMiss

    As a woman, I find the idea that attracting more Orthodox Jews is a bad thing to be a valid objection. I don’t want to invite into my neighborhood any organization which enforces gender segregation among its members. Orthodox Judaism is a bastion of purity culture, so the establishment of a sub-community of Orthodox Jews creates a hostile environment for the women of the community at large.

    We see this strongly in Israel.

    And in the rare cases outside Israel in which they’ve gained enough power and influence to impose their rules upon goyim, they haven’t shied from doing so.

    Of course, this is not the argument the naysayers are using. It would be a better world if it was.

  • aunursa

    Generally I don’t have a problem with gender segregation within an organization.  I would have a problem with an organization attempting to impose gender segregation on non-members.

    A San Diego-area YMCA offers women-only swim hours in order to accomodate the area’s Muslim population.  I distinguish the YMCA from a government-supported UK facility that also offers women’s only sessions in order to accomodate the Muslim population.

  • CharityB

     Well, that’s the issue with semiprivatization like the bus service example. The government contracts with a private company to operate a part of the municipal bus system. That private company turns out to be run by someone who believes that their religion requires them to discriminate against women.

    (The company’s bullshit, “We don’t require women to ride in the back of the bus, you can’t prove that we did that, and we promise we’ll stop” argument that they used to conclude the dispute notwithstanding though).

    But that doesn’t make semiprivatization or outsourcing a bad thing; all it means is that you have to be careful. It’s not acceptable to merely sign a franchise agreement with a group; you have to check up on them and respond to complaints about the service at least as vigorously as you would if you were providing the service directly. It wouldn’t be an issue at all if the bus service has been fully private, but the fact that it is contracted with the city and has signed an agreement requiring compliance with the same regulations as the rest of the city made it an issue.

  • BringTheNoise

    I honestly don’t why it makes a difference who owns the pool. The council might be offering them primarily at the request of the Muslim community but they’re not turning away non-Muslims. And if course, it’s also in England with no Establishment Clause and a State Church.

  • aunursa

    The council might be offering them primarily at the request of the Muslim community but they’re not turning away non-Muslims.

    But they are turning away non-Muslim men during these sessions.

    And to bring this back to America, I added a link in my previous comment to an article indicating that Seattle will begin offering women-only sessions at four city pools.

  • Carstonio

    But they are turning away non-Muslim men during these sessions.

    A better and more constitutional approach would be to turn away all men during the women-only session and turn away all women during the men-only session. The policy shouldn’t be about any particular religion specifically. I can imagine some non-Muslim folks wanting some exclusive time for secular reasons.

  • aunursa

    They are turning away all men during the women-only session.  My point was that non-Muslim men who do not subscribe to the gender segregation are prohibited despite the fact that it is a government-supported facility.

  • Lunch Meat

    Do the pools have sessions that are integrated, or are all the sessions men-only or women-only?

  • aunursa

    In both the UK and Seattle facilities, the pools have mostly integrated sessions.

    I don’t think that should matter with respect to the legality of a public facility offering women-only sessions.  Would it be okay if a facility offered weekly Muslim-only or Christian-only sessions — if the other 95% of the time it did not discriminate on the basis of religion?

  • Lunch Meat

    Isn’t it fairly common for public pools to offer age-restricted sessions?

    Your example really doesn’t work. In the first place, it would be impossible to offer a session for every religion, because there are two many of them. It’s fairly easy to offer two 2-hour sessions for men and two for women every week. In the second place, we already have gender-restricted facilities all over the place–locker rooms, public restrooms. We do it because a lot of people are more comfortable in gender-segregated places, and it makes sense that a pool would be a place where that would be true. There’s no reason to offer facilities segregated on the basis of religion, race, or anything else.

  • aunursa

    Age restrictions are appropriate given that children’s swimming sessions are pretty much incompatible with adult swimming sessions.

    it would be impossible to offer a session for every religion, because there are two many of them

    In communities where only one religion were to request segregated sessions, it would be easy to accomodate — but it would still violate the Constitution.

    we already have gender-restricted facilities all over the place–locker rooms, public restrooms. We do it because a lot of people are more comfortable in gender-segregated places

    Those involve nudity.  Are there women’s only sessions at public beaches in the United States?

  • BringTheNoise

     Age restrictions are appropriate given that children’s swimming sessions
    are pretty much incompatible with adult swimming sessions.

    This will come as a surprise to the many mixed-age group swimming sessions I have seen. The pool may need to restrict access for swimming LESSONS, but that’s a competency issue and it is not only children who take swimming lessons.

    And anecdote time: Most of the age-restricted sessions I’ve seen are for over-65s, not children.

  • aunursa

    Sure, there are mixed age group sessions.  Perhaps I should have said family swimming may be incompatible with adult lap swimming.

  • Carstonio

    If there are plenty of open sessions, I would think that wouldn’t be an issue. Religion aside, I would think the more relevant concern would be any gender inequality. Such as the pool refusing to also offer a men-only session if there were a demand for one, or giving one gender or the other most of the pool time.

  • Hummingwolf

    My problem with this idea of women-only swimming sessions is that I’m wondering who’s going to act as the gender police and how they’re going to go about it.  Now, if people are going to be recognized as women based on whatever their driver’s license or other state-issued ID says, will the religious folks who want women-only sessions be okay with the fact that there might be some trans women showing up, or will somebody try to insist that only people who were assigned female gender at birth qualify as female?  I can see problems occurring either way.

  • RLS

     In Seattle specifically, there is a city ordinance that access to single-sex public accommodations (including rest rooms and changing rooms, and I’m pretty sure a women-only session at a public pool would qualify) must respect identification. They can’t police anyone’s gender. If someone turns up and says they’re a woman, the pool must respect that.

  • Madhabmatics

     They do turn away all men, they don’t let in Muslim men either

  • EllieMurasaki

    A better and more constitutional approach would be to turn away all men during the women-only session and turn away all women during the men-only session.

    Define your terms, recalling that trans people exist.

  • Carstonio

    No slight intended to trans folks. I want equality for them as well, and offhand I don’t know how that would impact the specific pool issue. I’m inclined to say that if someone is squicked out by a trans person, that shouldn’t be the trans person’s problem.

  • Ruby_Tea

    Gotta say I’m not terribly offended by the idea of women-only or men-only sessions at a pool, if there’s a demand.  I would hope that they wouldn’t be held during the busiest hours of the day, so that the fewest people would be inconvenienced. But then, I also saw no problem with our local pool having adult-only swimming, so that adults could get some serious lap time in without children splashing and playing all around them.

  • Carstonio

    Adult-only swimming could be interpreted quite differently, like a swingers club…

  • Madhabmatics

     Man when I read “Adult lap swims” I was like “what the heck kind of pool is this”

  • The_L1985

    But they’re still allowing men to swim during other times.

  • aunursa

    But they’re still allowing men to swim during other times.

    They’re only discriminating for a few hours a week?  Oh, well that makes it okay.

    And any men for whom the most convenient times and locations to swim coincide with the women-only sessions?  Well, those men would be just out of luck.

  • Carstonio

    Assuming you’re correct, I would think that men-only swimming times would pose a similar problem. But you seem to be concerned only about the men impacted, as if it’s personal. Not the same thing as a white person complaining about not having a White History Month, but somewhat reminiscent of that same lack of perspective.

  • Tricksterson

    Are they turning away non-Muslim men but permitting Muslim men in?  If so I see a problem, if not then not.

  • Tricksterson

    Prediction:  More than a few non-Muslim women will wind up using the women only time.  That’s when there might be a problem, if the Muslims try to claim that time exclusively for “their” women.  Then there would be a problem with the 1st Amendment.  But if they don’t then I don’t see a problem.

  • Ross

     Given the way these things tend to go in the 21st century US, the more likely scenario is that the community would be happy to have gender-segregated pool times for “secular” reasons, but the second a group of Muslims show up and mention that they’ve got a religious reason to be in favor of those segregated times, people who normally are just fine with religious displays in public spaces will suddenly think “But separation of church and state!” and abolish the gender-segregated pool times.

  • Carstonio

    I have moral reservations about religions having such rules regarding gender. I automatically think of the gender apartheid being practiced by some Muslim fundamentalists and some ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities.

    But I doubt that’s sufficient grounds for the YMCA to reject women-only swims. And I’m not sure how the First Amendment prohibition on favoring some religions over others would play out for these swims.

    Also, this explains the issue with signs on poles:

  • johnm55

     I personally don’t have a problem with a local authority swimming pool offering women only sessions. If they were only open to Muslim women that might be a problem, but they are not, and I am sure that there are women of all faiths and none, who might well prefer to go swimming without the attention of men

  • aunursa

    Previously Seattle allowed women-only swimming sessions that were private rentals paid through grants.  However the new program will be conducted by the city, which makes it ripe for a discrimination lawsuit.

  • Mrs Grimble

    Why is the idea of a women-only swimming session bothering you? And why assume that the UK pool is specifically catering to Muslims? Its open to all women, and plenty of non-Muslim women like the idea. There’s a women-only pool on Hampstead Heath in London that’s been going for a century or more.

  • aunursa

    Why is the idea of a women-only swimming session bothering you?

    Women’s only swimming sessions at private facilities or sponsored by private groups does not bother me.  Women’s only public sessions at public facilities may violate civil rights laws and/or the Constitution.  That does bother me. 

    And why assume that the UK pool is specifically catering to Muslims?

    I did not make that assumption.

  • Mrs Grimble

    Anursa, you did actually write “in order to accomodate the Muslim population”. Which sounds like you’re making that assumption.
    And I’m willing to be proved wrong but I’m pretty certain that every pool in the UK offers women-only sessions. My local pool certainly does.

  • aunursa

    There is a difference between “serves only Muslims” and “in order to accomodate the Muslim population.”  The former is religious discrimination; the latter probably is not.

  • Lorehead

    With regard to pool sessions open only to women, my first reaction is: all right, suppose there are a number of women requesting them, and this is their genuine preference and not something they’re being forced into.  Do their reasons matter?  Do we have to fight something that would be convenient for those women just because it would make Muslims happy?

  • christopher_y

    As a data point, my wife who is an ex-Catholic atheist, is a member of a women only gym, and would certainly avail herself of the facility if the municipally owned swimming pools had women only sessions. This is not because men are aggressively misogynistic in gyms and swimming pools, but because they tend not to check their privilege. At the gym, which is always crowded, she says the number of Muslims attending is roughly in proportion to the number in the general population, so I guess that would probably be the case at a pool too.

  • Carstonio


    because they tend not to check their privilege

    You mean they’re acting like they’re entitled to the pool, treating the women like interlopers? As opposed, to say, ogling the women?

  • christopher_y

    Both, really. They tend to be stronger and more aggressive so they take over the lanes; and ogling the younger women.

  • Lorehead

    This is not because men are aggressively misogynistic in gyms and swimming pools, but because they tend not to check their privilege.

    As a man who swims, but isn’t sure what she means by this, I probably need to understand what she’s talking about.  Could you ask her to expand on this?

  • Invisible Neutrino

    Well, a simple example is the tendency of some men to forget that they were told staring is impolite in Western culture.

  • Tom

    “There’s a women-only pool on Hampstead Heath in London that’s been going for a century or more.”
    And a men only one… As you can imagine, located on Hampstead Heath there’s plenty of mischief that goes on there!

  • Lliira

    I don’t want to invite into my neighborhood any organization which enforces gender segregation among its members.

    I agree with this.

    “It’s a religion, so any discrimination against it must be bad” is not an argument I find compelling at all. People are allowed to get away with far too much in the name of religion, and severe gender inequity and abuse of women and children are at the top of that list. 

  • Ross


    So… Religions that practice gender discimination do not deserve equal protection under the law, and practitioners of those religions should be forced to choose to either violate their faith, or move to ghettos where their religion won’t offend good decent christian secular egalitarian folk?

  • Hilary

    Point of observation – most of the people raising possible objections to living with large amounts of ultra-orthodox Jews are . . . . other Jews.  Just because there is only ~13-14 million Jews in existance on the entire planet, doesn’t mean we all get along with each other.  Jewish fundamentalists . . . . oy oy oy.  They’re religious fundamentalists, there is no live and let live.  If that was more of the case, then that would be different.  But I don’t know the exact type of Jews involved, so I shouldn’t speculate too much. 

    If there was a compromise, then maybe things would be different.  “Let us put up the eruv, and we’ll honor and follow basic civil law about legal eqalitarianism between men and women outside our community.”  That would be the basic Jewish Bargin we’ve fine-tuned for centuries across countries and contenants.  Let us keep our traditions and holidays, pray and study without harrasement and prejudice, and in return we will pay taxes, do business, and be productive citizens.  Every time this bargin gets struck in our history of diaspora exile, it can work really well for both sides. 

    You’re right in seeing the problem here – how to balance religious equal protection under law, when the religious practises in question violate secular law.  The eruv doesn’t violate that, but demanding gender segregation from non-orthodox Jews and other non-Jews does.  If these ultra-orthodox have a history of that, it’s not surprising people are worried.   

  • Tricksterson

    And where they can legally impose their values on others that’s a danger, or where there’s a realistic danger of their being able to do so.  However it’s nowhere near a danger here nor likely to become one.  What you’re stating is analogous to those who are afraid of sharia beoming the norm in the United States.

  • Carstonio

    For a minute, I was expecting Fred to suggest that evangelicals adopt their own version of eruv. Or to point out that what evangelicals seek is the exact opposite, wanting its restrictions to apply to everyone. I admire the concept of the eruv as a way to follow self-imposed restrictions in a society without imposing those restrictions on others.

  • Eran Rathan

    Speaking as a surveyor, they may not be allowed to put up their eruvim markings on the poles, regardless of the city – Most utility poles are owned by the utility companies, and they (generally) don’t allow any markings on them, other than ones put there by the municipalities.  Not that people don’t put things on utility poles anyways, but they aren’t supposed to –  they are privately owned in most cases, even though they do reside within the public right of way (usually).  

    Also, hail to my SCAdian brethren!

  • Madhabmatics

    Guys, if we allow incredibly non-obvious stuff on telephone poles, the next step will be people advertising their yard sales on them

  • Madhabmatics

    Actually I really like that guy who was like “but what if someone wanted a cross up there but camouflaged it so that only people who knew it was there could see it” because that’s sounds awesome, imo camo all symbols and hide them around so that in the future people think your town is a hotbed of secret societies

  • SisterCoyote

    That would be awesome.

    (For the longest time, I was convinced that those ornamental stars you see on people’s doors were markers of a secret society. My dad eventually told me they were just decorations, but I tried to not-believe him for a few months anyway, because it was so much more interesting.)

  • Dani B

    The utilities in WHB already signed contracts to have an eruv on their poles.

  • MaryKaye

    My city–Seattle, which is not known for religiosity–has directional signs for large churches and synagogues on public streets.  As long as similar signs are allowed for non-religious establishments (Boys and Girls Club, Antioch College, Rhododendron Garden, etc), and there’s no discrimination on the basis of which religion or sect, I don’t see a problem.

    I have not seen signs for the local mosque, but it might not qualify on the basis of size; it’s much smaller than the signed churches and synagogues.

    Seattlites fought very hard for the right to put things on public utility poles; posting has a lot of historical significance to the music scene here.  I would be very surprised if people objected to the eruv.  I personally would not.  If it leads to the Street Scramble (a race I participate in) wanting to put inconspicuous markings on utility poles; or Catholics numbering poles to facilitate a Stations of the Cross event; I can live with that.  I think we can make room for religion in public space–just not for religious bias or exercise of religious power.

  • Mordicai

    Me: “Actually, I agree, having the government pay to put up an eru…WAIT THAT ISN’T EVEN…SHEESH.”

    Then there is this:

    “I believe they think somebody’s trying to push something down their throats.”

    Hey, you know, if you have to start your weird racist waffle with “I BELIEVE that SOMEBODY THINKS that SOMEBODY ELSE is going to do something…” well, shoot, dude, let me just say that those weasel words wouldn’t even make it into a Wikipedia entry.

  • Tony Prost

     It’s funny how many people are trying to shove things down conservatives’ throats! I think that is their most consistent metaphor.

  • johnm55

    Of course the whole thing is a bit like the Garfunkle and Oates song (Definitely NSFW.) Creating a legal fiction to get round a self-imposed legal fiction is basically just stupid. 

  • EllieMurasaki

    Define ‘self-imposed legal fiction’ in a way that actually applies to this situation. Because religious requirements? Not self-imposed. Possibly stupid–in fact I sincerely doubt there is a single religion that requires anything of its membership where absolutely none of the requirements are stupid–though I do not care to argue whether this particular requirement is stupid. Point is, it’s a requirement, and if they did not abide by it they would not be Orthodox Jews.

  • LL

    Why isn’t there an app for this? Seems like there should be.

  • Mark Z.

    Because then you have to carry your smartphone to know if you’re allowed to carry your smartphone.

  • aunursa

    If you’re an Orthodox Jew, you won’t use your smartphone during Shabbat.

  • Mark Z.

    That too.

  • LL

    Alrighty then. 

  • Hilary

    As far as the second argument “We don’t want those people here” my first thought was “What type of neighbors have the Orthodox been so far?”  Because Jewish fundamentalists can be just as obnoxious and hard to live with as anybody else’s fundamentalists.  If we are talking modern orthodox, then they are very observent Jews who are still willing to interact with the rest of the world.  But ultra-orthodox haredi black hat fundamentalists*? As a liberal, Reform Jew I would not want to live next door to a large number of ultra orthodox who think their right to religious freedom trumps my right to be a modern American Jewish woman when we pass on the street.  I wouldn’t mind living next to modern orthodox who understand their right to enforce their community standards about women and modesty ends outside of their community.  If they can live and let live – I won’t be a nudge about them if they won’t be schmucks about me.

    *I’m not calling them ‘black hat fundamentalists’ as any code word or put down, or insinuation about being evil spies, but because they wear black hats. 

    But for the first arguement – a small, inconspicious addition to public grounds not meant to enforce anything on anybody who doesn’t already follow the culture shouldn’t be a problem.



  • Ross

    How fortunate I am that the things I don’t want in a neighbor are not related to their religion, and therefore it’s okay for me to try to use the force of law to send the message to people I don’t like that We Don’t Like Your Kind ‘Round Here.

  • Lori


    How fortunate I am that the things I don’t want in a neighbor are not related to their religion   

    Yes, you are fortunate that you are never likely to have neighbors who want to force you to do things like consistently yield right of way on the sidewalk or prohibit you from using public transportation.

  • Lorehead

    I wouldn’t mind living next to modern orthodox who understand their right to enforce their community standards about women and modesty ends outside of their community.

    I strongly disagree that men have any right to impose “standards about women and modesty” on women who disagree, whether those women belong to “their community” or not.

  • Abigail Nussbaum

    As an Israeli Jew, it’s hard for me to feel too much opprobrium at people who are distressed at the possibility that their community might become strongly Orthodox.  The problem with preaching tolerance in this case is that the Orthodox are rarely tolerant themselves.  As has already been pointed out in this thread, in certain, mixed communities in Israel, they’ve gone so far as to try to limit the ability of women – Orthodox and secular alike – to move freely in the public streets.  In communities with large Orthodox communities, businesses are often pressured to close on Saturdays, and forget about finding public transport on the weekends anywhere outside of Haifa (one of the few major cities in Israel with a large Arab community). 

    Now, that’s in Israel, where for political reasons religious fanaticism has enjoyed far too much indulgence for far too long.  Possibly Orthodox Jews in the US, or in this particular town, are less ambitious.  But that’s not what I’ve been hearing coming out of Brooklyn, where there have also been attempts to limit women’s freedom of movement and public transport on the Sabbath, and apparently the community discussed here has already seen its neighboring businesses forced to shut down on Saturdays.  There’s a difference between asking for accommodation for your religious beliefs (for example, specific hours during which the swimming pool is reserved for women, which we also have in Israel), and imposing those beliefs on everyone around you whether they want them or not.  In my experience, Orthodox Jews are usually after the latter.

  • MaryKaye

    I swim regularly at one of the Seattle pools–not one that will be offering women-only times, though the next one north will.  Maybe I am not in the target age group, but I personally have not seen harassment in this setting.  I don’t think there would be much reason to go women-only unless you were either culturally prohibited from swimming with men, or had reasons of personal history to feel unsafe in a mixed environment.

    It might seem fairer to also offer men-only but apparently there is no demand.  (The more I think about why there is no demand, the ickier it gets, because if your religion prohibits women swimming with men it should *really* prohibit men swimming with women.  But I don’t get to rewrite other peoples’ religions.)

    As for the argument that one doesn’t want a disliked religious group moving in–that’s what civil rights are *for*.  You don’t need a civil liberties movement to protect the rights of the popular and inoffensive.  It’s precisely cases where the endangered party is unpopular and offensive that test your commitment to civil liberties.  That’s why the ACLU defends the KKK.  And–what is the alternative?  Forcing someone out of your community does not make them stop existing.  It just makes their lives worse.  (And very possibly hardens their hearts, because now their feelings of persecution are validated.)

  • Madhabmatics

    Okay, two things

    1) I attended a former’s women’s university and even there I knew a ton of women that would not use the gym because of men leering at them and sexual harassment. It’s great that Seattle doesn’t have that problem or whatever, but it’s definitely a problem in a lot of places. None of the women that complained to me about that were Muslim, I don’t think that women would only want to go to Curve’s because of religious oppression. I mean I guess Curves could be made up solely of Jewish and Muslim women, but many of the white people I know go there too, so?

    We are only like ten years away from when Rush Limbaugh wrote a book with a chapter about how banning a dude for oggling women and masturbating in the locker room was a feminist plot, here.

    2) The same people that interpret things in Islam as “Women can’t swim with men” also believe “Men can’t swim with women.” The fact that people ignore that is definitely a symbol of patriarchy, but you aren’t going to find Fatwa’s that say “yo it’s totally okay for a man to swim with women” from the same people that condemn it the other way around.

  • AnonaMiss

    Yes, aunursa, I heartily agree that gender-segregated swimming sessions in public pools should not be happening. (Depending on how “public” the pool is, of course. The pool in the neighborhood where I grew up was in practice a public pool – they didn’t check to make sure you were allowed in – but it was owned by the homeowners’ association and so legally private. So I’d want to confirm that the pool in question was legally public, and not just de facto public, before passing judgment on their gender segregated swim.)

    The YMCA is a private organization and can do as it likes as long as it pays taxes.

    To clarify, I do think asking for an eruv is within the bounds of reasonable religious accommodation, and I think it would be in bad taste for the community to refuse. I just wanted to point out that there are reasons to be trepidatious about Orthodox Jews* moving in next door that have nothing to do with anti-Semitism.**

    * I will admit that I don’t know where the line is between ‘Orthodox’ and ‘Haredim’, so if what’s here being described as Orthodox doesn’t participate in gender segregation, my objection is withdrawn.

    ** I struggle with this. Wouldn’t it technically still be anti-Semitism? It’s definitely still religious prejudice. I mean, I’d argue it’s a “good” form of religious prejudice, but everyone thinks their own prejudices are good, right? Yeah, I know, we don’t have to tolerate intolerance, but what do you do when people demand and defend the right to be othered? It’s not like there aren’t Orthodox Jewish women. If a woman willingly participates in her religion’s gender segregation, and she says it’s her choice – well, many forms of participiation in the patriarchy are also the woman’s choice, but that doesn’t mean it’s not damaging. At the same time, if a person wants to dress in any way and experiences this as their preference, who am I to say that they’re wrong about their own experience? It’s a sticky situation.

  • aunursa

    Thank you for struggling with the question and your sincere answer.

    Although I can’t be sure, it appears (from information posted on the Seattle Parks & Recreation website and related sites) that all four of the Seattle pools that will offer women-only sessions are publicly-owned.

  • Dave


    I struggle with this. Wouldn’t it technically still be anti-Semitism?

    My own answer to this, which is mine and not meant as any kind of general insistence that anyone else do or refrain from doing anything in particular, is that if I have standards of acceptable behavior and lots of Jews violate those standards and I judge those Jews poorly, that’s not anti-Semitism. If non-Jews violate those standards as well and I don’t judge those non-Jews equally poorly, that’s anti-Semitism.

    There’s some refining of that which is worth doing, involving the question of whether my standards are question-begging… e.g., if “acceptable behavior” requires going to church on Sundays. It’s tricky to state in the abstract with any precision the condition that violates, though, so I usually play it by ear.


    what do you do when people demand and defend the right to be othered?

    It depends. If we have the sort of relationship that entitles me to question or challenge their choices, I do so. If not, I don’t.

  • Ennid

    Some people have mentioned that they really *would* rather not have tons of Orthodox Jews in their community because of various problematic aspects of Orthodox society (especially in their treatment of women) and because Orthodox communities both in Israel and in the US have been moving towards greater discrimination against NON-orthodox people in or near their own communities, rather than just having a live-and-let-live attitude.

    This seems like a totally reasonable basis for not wanting some people to move in next to you, honestly. (I don’t share that basis; I find Orthodox Judaism so charming for totally superficial reasons that I’d probably put up with a lot to get to live near a community of Orthodox Jews. Same for the Amish.)  But that’s a totally separate matter from whether it’s just to permit people to put up harmless pieces of PVC pipe. We don’t have the right to put legal barriers in place to harass or hinder other people from moving in next to you, just because we’d rather they didn’t. That’s one of the beautiful things about America.

  • Lori


    I’d probably put up with a lot to get to live near a community of Orthodox Jews. Same for the Amish.)   

    I live near a fairly decent-sized community of Amish. They’re perfectly fine as neighbors, but once you get used to seeing them there’s nothing particularly charming about them. I don’t mean that they’re not nice. I mean that they’re just people. Some of them are nice. Some of them are not. The women and children tend to be very shy around outsiders so it’s unusual to interact with them all that much. The one thing I will say is that very small children in Amish clothing are never not cute.

  • Stone_Monkey

    What this story reminds me of, a little, was another story I read last year – and I don’t have the link, but someone with better google-fu than I might be able to find it. It concerned a US city that was attempting to ban halal slaughter (and the products thereof iirc), ostensibly for the purposes of animal welfare. It was obviously and abundantly clear that the measure was primarily designed to discomfit any Muslims in the area by making it impossible for them to consume meat if they so wished.
    I believe it also fell flat as they were making very strenuous efforts to ensure that kosher meat was not included in the proposed law. I’m fairly sure more than one person took very great pleasure in pointing out to the city fathers that kosher meat is also halal and so their wonderfully “clever” measure would have had no effect whatsoever on the diet of the Muslims they’d hoped to encourage  to – to use Mitt Romney’s awesomely braindead phrase – self deport.

    There have also been attempts along these lines in Poland and Holland too. The EU gave them short shrift – another reason for me to despair of the proposals for my home nation leaving it, as I can totally see those Daily Mail reading sections of the UK public cheering the idea on.

    So yeah, another social engineering based attempt at non-violent ethnic cleansing.

  • aunursa

    kosher meat is also halal and so their wonderfully “clever” measure would have had no effect whatsoever on the diet of the Muslims

    According to several Islamic sources, kosher meat is not halal.  It appears that many (but not all) Muslim authorities permit Muslims to eat kosher food if halal food is not available.

  • heckblazer

    Based on your link kosher meat wouldn’t be halal purely for political reasons and not anything inherent to kosher slaughter.  The stated reasoning for the fatwa is that Muslims should not eat kosher because they have a duty to boycott anyone who supports Zionism.

  • aunursa

    No, several links indicate differences, especially kosher foods that are not halal (e.g. foods that contain gelatin or kosher wine), and the person who slaughters animals in accordance with kosher standards does not recite the name of God before each slaughter.

  • Madhabmatics

    Most often Muslims who don’t consider kosher meat halal do so because of differing standards amongst madhab. What meat is halal depends on what madhab and what scholars in that madhab you follow, which means that depending on where in the Muslim world you are from, you’ll have different halal standards. Shellfish and lobsters are considered automatically halal with no ritual or prayer needed in the Maliki school, but are considered Haram in the Hanafi school. One of the particular objections is whether or not you think that blessing every animal individually is necessary, or whether you can do collective blessings.

    Yes, this means that food prepared to halal standards for some Muslims doesn’t meet the standard for others.

    In any case, refusing to buy acceptable food because of (historically) recent politics is very much a minority opinion, and goes against one of the other basic ideas of eating halal: If there is a good chance the food is acceptable, but it might be, don’t try to find out.

  • Madhabmatics

    What’s especially interesting is that the Hanafi school is basically considered the least-demanding madhab, but the Maliki and Shaf’i are much freer about ocean-based foods than the Hanafi.

  • Lori


    What’s especially interesting is that the Hanafi school is basically
    considered the least-demanding madhab, but the Maliki and Shaf’i are
    much freer about ocean-based foods than the Hanafi. 

    Is that geographical? Did the Maiki and Shaf’i madhabs originate in areas with greater access to the ocean than the Hanafi? (I guess it could also go the other way, with the Maliki & Shaf’i not bothering to regulate things their people didn’t really have access to.)

  • Madhabmatics


    I don’t know about Maliki, but my secret theory re: Shaf’i is that it’s because one of the schools founding principles is “If it’s a local custom that isn’t strictly anti-Islam or forbidden, allow it” – which may be convenient or horrible depending.

  • AnonymousSam

    I should ask, am I completely off-base with my interpretation of Al-Mã’edah, Sura 5:3-5? Does it only refer to desperate situations, or can it refer to when there simply isn’t an alternative in reasonable proximity? ^^;

  • Madhabmatics

    It really, really depends on who you consider a scholar with a correct ruling. (Much like pretty much all the rules, haha.)

    It’s something we argue about a whole lot internally. Mainly there are three positions.

    1) 5:5 says if people of the book slaughter it, it’s okay. No ifs, ands, or buts. We are in a Western country and there are Christians everywhere and given that it’s pretty likely that the dude who butchered that cow is Christian, it’s acceptable to err on the side of it being permitted. Don’t worry about it.

    2) While it’s totally okay to eat pork if you are starving, you aren’t starving to death, so just become a vegetarian / pescatarian. (The rules for fish are way, way more lax than for other meats.)

    3) The comedy option, a bunch of scholars think that it is NOT okay to refuse to eat something EXCEPT for health reasons, so switching your diet to a vegetarian / pescatarian one would be really bad. I guess these guys would want you to do #1 but feel guilty about it.

    You can imagine the arguments this can start.

  • P J Evans

     I think one of the Muslims I used to work with was vegetarian. (At least at work.)

  • AnonymousSam

    *Giggles at the third option* Reminds me of the “it’s all but mandatory, even though you’re not supposed to” scenarios that pop up in Judaism. “Can I carry a bucket of water into the neighbor’s lawn to throw it on him if he’s on fire?” “Why are you standing around, asking stupid questions while your neighbor’s on fire? Grab the bucket, idiot!”

    Okay, that’s actually about what I expected. Either way, it wouldn’t have deterred anyone unless they eliminated so many kinds of food that it defeated the purpose. The real purpose of the law was likely symbolic, trying to intimidate the Muslims into leaving the neighborhood.

  • Hilary

    Dude, do you have any idea how much this sounds like it came out of a yeshiva?  Sometimes I feel that if we could just drop Middle East politics and chill out over the Isaac/Ishmael thing, Jews and Muslims should get along great.  Maybe it’s in part because Judaism actually developed in Babylon, more then in Israel.  The developement from biblical Israelite to Rabbinic Judaism, writing the Babylonian Talmud. 

  • AnonymousSam

    I’ve seen it before, but can’t recall where either. If there’s no alternative to eating forbidden food, though, it’s not considered sinful. So not only was it discrimination, it was ineffectual, ignorant discrimination.

  • AnonymousSam

    I’ve seen it before, but can’t recall where either. If there’s no alternative to eating forbidden food, though, it’s not considered sinful. So not only was it discrimination, it was ineffectual, ignorant discrimination.

  • fraser

     Hialeah, FL. had the same problem when it tried to ban Santeria sacrifices. To avoid affecting anyone else, they wrote the law so narrowly and obviously targeted that the Supreme Court tossed it out.

  • The_L1985

     Someone else said that, too.  The funny part is, most Santeros look pretty darn Catholic to people who aren’t familiar with Santeria–which is most people.  So, how on earth would they know the Santeros from the local Catholic majority?  Were the people who wrote the law planning on breaking into the homes of suspected Santeros (itself illegal) to see if they were killing chickens at the time?

    The entire law made no sense whatsoever.

  • CharityB

    It’s far more likely that the neighbors of Santeros would report them to the authorities and use that as a mechanism of harassment. If they could keep the Church involved in a lot of litigation, or even just threaten to, that might be enough to get them to relocate somewhere else. 

  • heckblazer

    With no further information that’s my suspicion as well, especially as a Southampton Jewish group opposed the eruv.  Specifically I suspect the fear is that the town could turn into another Kiryas Joel.   That’s a majority Hasidic village a few counties over that’s caused lots of friction with its neighbors due to its poverty, aggressive growth and tendency to vote as a bloc as directed by its rabbis.  This has lead to a good bit of litigation, the most notable being  Board of Education of Kiryas Joel Village School District v. Grumet in which  the Supreme Court ruled that the village’s school district violated the establishment clause.  
    As for the eruv itself, it strikes me about as objectionable as a sign that says “Entering Chinatown” or one with a church and an arrow on it.

  • MaryKaye

    I don’t recognize the anti-halal lawsuit (which is not to say I disbelieve in it) but there was a very similar one in Hialeah Florida which was directed at Santerian animal sacrifice (but *not* halal or kosher butchers, nor animal experimentation, nor animal control euthanasia, nor….)  The US Supreme Court found against the city–the comment in the decision was “religious gerrymandering” because the law was so transparently slicing around  stuff “we” do to excise only stuff “they” do.   One of my favorite SC decisions.

  • heckblazer

    What, there’s more than one link?  D’oh!

    I wasn’t clear in that I was specifically talking about meat since halal slaughter was what brought this up.  From the links you’ve provided I’d say it still looks like the main objection to kosher meat is political; I’d be curious to see any pre-1948 fatwas.

  • aunursa

    I suspect that American Muslims are more strict regarding the consumption of kosher food perhaps because Muslims have greater accessible to halal sources today than in previous decades.  Nevertheless I say this as a pro-Israel Jew: Whatever the reason that certain Muslim authorities do not consider kosher food halal is irrelevant.  I support the ability of Muslims to prepare food in accordance with halal standards without governmental interference.

  • Leum

    It’s my understanding that, in the absence of a kosher butcher’s shop, the local Orthodox community uses the halal butchers.

  • Tom

    I’m really reluctant to write this because it’s more a thought experiment to understand the stance of the opposition, rather than my own carefully thought out view, but I think there’s a difference between being reluctant to have people of a certain belief move to/dominate an area and, for example, people of a certain race.

    The only reason I mention it is that East London used to have a large gay community, however recently (unfortunately it’s probably due to low property prices and inequality of opportunity for Muslim people coming to the UK) it has become London’s main Muslim area.  Now I know more than most that not all Muslims are homophobic, but let’s face it – most main religions have that element… and as a result there has been a big increase in homophobic incidents, including ‘gay free zone’ stickers quoting religious verses and gangs of guys ‘policing’ the area by filming themselves shouting homophobia at passers by.

    As a result the gay community has dissipated and gay people feel far less safe in that area.  Obviously I don’t have a problem with Muslims, any more than I do with Christians or any other religion, but I can imagine being a gay man living in that area and in a way I can understand his hostility to the change.  Obviously this hostility can manifest itself in very ugly ways – an East London gay pride march was cancelled a couple of years ago after it was discovered that the organisers had links to the English Defence League – a pseudo-racist anti-immigration group – who were obviously just looking to stir up trouble and were using the gay community as pawns to do so.

    For me this is one of the big problems with religion being included as a protected characteristic under anti-discrimination law.  On the one hand it is obviously wrong to discriminate against someone for being born into a certain family and a certain belief system, and we MUST have freedom of belief, but at the same time it becomes problematic to have sets of values and opinions protected by law.  For me someone’s values and opinions are one of the most justified areas to judge them on, after their actions.  This protection has led many UK Christians to pursue claims of discrimination when they are told they cannot discriminate against gay people.

    Obviously this situation is quite different, and I’m sure plenty of it is just old fashioned anti-Semitism, but the fact that one of the people quoted was Jewish themselves makes me wonder at what point you can justifiably be concerned about a local cultural change, when that culture brings with it a set of beliefs that might ultimately disadvantage you.

    I don’t have the answers, and it’s a line of thought that I’m a bit uncomfortable with because it would go down a storm with racists, so in a way I kind of wanted to hear the opinions of someone on here – knowing that unlike other sites you guys are generally thoughtful, reasonable and not racist!

  • Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little

    Out of curiosity, aunursa, I wonder how you feel about state-run or state-funded refuges for women’s shelters.

  • WalterC

    Those things would be different in the US. The law does allow for discrimination based on sex or gender as long as it serves a compelling governmental interest, which domestic violence shelters fall under pretty much everywhere in the US. It’s called exacting scrutiny, or intermediate scrutiny. (Neal vs. Michigan DofC, Craig vs. Boren). 

  • alfgifu

    Gender segregated swimming times seem to me to be one of those cases where there’s a legitimate argument on both sides – on the one hand, it’s a pity to restrict access to the pool based on stated gender or – even more problematically – apparent gender (from the perspective of the staff).

    But on the other hand, a pool is a shared facility that can be enjoyed better by some groups when other groups are not present (eg by adult swimmers when there are fewer children splashing about). Trying to schedule times to accommodate those needs better is a worthwhile goal.

    Personally, I think having occasional ‘womens only’ or ‘mens only’ sessions (and potentially age-segregated sessions as well) that are clearly advertised as such, and arranged to avoid clashing with peak demand, is a pretty fair compromise. But then I am coming from a UK perspective where that is par for the course.

    It hadn’t occured to me until reading this thread that there is an accompanying issue of reinforcing an unhealthily dualistic gender model. I’m not quite sure how it would be best to deal with that – I know a lot of swimming pools which have mixed-gender changing areas with small cubicles for privacy, so it certainly isn’t a given that going to the pool means choosing whether to walk through the ‘girl’ door or the ‘boy’ door (again, caveat that this is a UK perspective).

  • Dave


    on the one hand, it’s a pity to restrict access […] on the other hand, a pool is a shared facility that can be enjoyed
    better by some groups when other groups are not present

    I am sympathetic to this view in principle, but in practice I reject it.

    To say that more precisely:

    In principle, in cases where the entire population happens to divide naturally into N groups that are jointly exhaustive and mutually prefer to avoid one another’s company, and it’s possible to exclusively allocate a resource among those groups such that everyone’s legitimate needs are equally and adequately met, I endorse doing that.

    But in practice, the group boundaries we tend to draw are artificially imposed, don’t reflect jointly exhaustive divisions of the population, there’s no common understanding of what needs are legitimate and when they’ve been adequately met, and there’s no shared reliable notion of equality to be had among them.

    Worse, we aren’t very good at even recognizing that any of that is the case. That is, we have a habit of treating our artificial social boundaries as though they were natural kinds, of marginalizing and ignoring people who don’t fit into the buckets we’ve allocated, of treating the needs of in-group members as intrinsically more legitimate than the needs of out-group members, of noticing the unmet needs of in-group members more reliably than the unmet needs of out-group members, and of thinking we treat different groups equally when in fact we don’t.

    Hence, the oft-quoted “separate but equal is never equal.”

    So in practice, when I find myself wanting to allocate system resources this way, my inclination is to take a long hard look at who actually has the power to impose their own preferences on the system and who doesn’t, and to make my resource-allocation choices based on equalizing that power imbalance where I can.

    The result of doing that is almost always a resource-allocation profile that feels deeply weird and counterintuitive to me and most of my peers.

  • Carstonio

    While I share many of your concerns, what do you propose as a solution? In this specific case, are you concerned that the women-only sessions might backfire and inadvertently perpetuate male privilege? Christopher mentioned the problem of men taking over the lanes during open swims. I suspect this is less about a natural strength advantage and more about a feeling of entitlement that exploits that advantage. Where sex and gender are concerned, the issue may be not artificial social boundaries, but artificial attitudes about genitalia differences.

  • Dave

    As I said, I endorse looking at who actually has the power to impose their own
    preferences on the system and who doesn’t, and equalizing that power imbalance
    where we can.

    In the specific case of gender and swimming pools,
    my expectation is that if we do that, we’ll find there’s an existing
    imbalance such that female-identified swimmers lose out to
    male-identified swimmers, and that intervening to establish compensatory
    restrictions on male-identified swimmers or compensatory advantages to
    female-identified swimmers (including but not limited to women-only
    sessions) can equalize that imbalance, in which case I endorse such

    That said, if that is the problem I would likely
    prefer sessions from which men are excluded to sessions restricted only
    to women.

    Even more would I prefer a more careful analysis of
    how the existing imbalance functions, which might support a less
    intrusive and more efficient intervention. What that intervention might
    be I don’t know; actually collecting data about the real system is often
    a necessary step before usefully intervening in that system.

    I recognize that gathering more data isn’t always cost-effective, and I
    also endorse basing interventions on the most likely model given the
    information that we have at any given point rather than endlessly
    collecting more data.

    So, putting that all together, I endorse women-only sessions while reserving the right to change my mind given more data.

    In this specific case, are you concerned that the women-only sessions
    might backfire and inadvertently perpetuate male privilege?

    I hadn’t been thinking in those terms, but now that you ask of course
    this sort of backlash  from the powerful is always a risk when
    intervening to equalize power. That’s not an ethical
    reason not to do it, though in some cases it can be a
    tactical reason, in the “pick your battles” sense.

    don’t know enough about this specific case to have a
    strong opinion, but I’d be surprised if that were a
    significant enough tactical concern here to change my position.

  • Carstonio

    No disagreement with your general principle about equalizing power imbalances.

     if that is the problem I would likely prefer sessions from which men are excluded to sessions restricted only to women.

    Would the excluded sessions be open to children of both sexes? I imagine there would have to be an age cutoff for the males, perhaps 13 or 14. As you said, there may be a a less intrusive and more efficient way to counteract the power imbalance.

  • Dave

    Would the excluded sessions be open to children of both sexes?

    At the risk of repeating myself, the nature of the intervention ought to depend on what, based on currently available evidence, we think the nature of the imbalance is.

    So really, my answer is “Don’t ask me, ask someone who has actually studied the system!”

    That said, for the system under discussion I share your implicit expectation that there’s an age below which there’s not a significant power imbalance correlated with gender for a mixed-age group, so I would expect that not excluding people younger than that age based on their gender would make sense.

    Of course, we could also have a conversation about whether it makes sense to exclude people younger than that age more generally, but that’s a separate issue. More generally, I suspect intersectionality is also a key thing to take into account for this kind of analysis.

  • Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little

    My point about state-funded women’s shelters is, they exist on the same spectrum of women-only swim times at public pools: they both can be instituted to address the problem of victims of sexual/sexualized harassment, abuse, and assault are disproportionately female.

    Given a culture in which women are largely seen as existing purely for sex, where our worth is equated with our bodies, and where the sight of a woman in a swimsuit is sexualized to the point that that’s the only way some people seem to want to engage with us when we’re in swimsuits (which is to say, cat calls if they like the way we look, “comic” protests of DO NOT WANT if they don’t)… it’s pretty damn reasonable for public pools to provide a time when a woman doesn’t have to brave that kind of attention just to swim a few laps.

    And kudos to those who have already mentioned this. There were a few post making that point. Unfortunately I think it got lost in the noise of “Women-only swim sessions mean the religious women-haters are moving in!”

    Obviously a women-only swim time can be instituted because a dominant religion decrees that men shouldn’t be around those icky women, too, but it isn’t the only reason; and if the legitimate reason just happens to make religious misogynists happy too, that doesn’t delegitimize the legitimate reason.

    I was curious as to what aunursa thought about that, whether he thinks that in the name of a principled non-discriminatory stance women should just suck it up and deal with potential harassment or stay home if they can’t hack it, whether he even thinks that women’s shelters too are discriminatory absent an equal number and capacity of men’s shelters; but given that Walter’s used my post as a jumping-off point in egg-sucking lessons I figured it would be best if I just made my point clearly: I believe there is a sufficiently compelling reason that provides for the availability of a public pool’s women-only swim session. It is not at the same severity level as the need for women’s shelters, but it is of a kind and on the same spectrum.

  • Ross

     What keeps bugging me in this conversation is that there seems to be a willingness to say “We will not accomodate your believs. Either violate your religious faith, or you are de facto forbidden from using this public facility which is available to anyone who follows a more socially acceptable religion,” which, even if you think the religion is misogynistic strikes me as “The powerful religions can deny access to public services to members of the minority religion as long as we’re careful to not make it be *technically* a religious ban”

  • Carstonio

    I’m not picking up on such attitudes in the conversation, although they might be there and I missed them. I agree with Nicole that there are valid secular reasons for women-only sessions at public pools, as long as these are open to all women regardless of religious affiliation.

  • Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little

    Belated afterthought: Dave is right re: gendered power imbalances. I seem to be belaboring a point Dave has already made quite adequately.