The problems with the Lubavitch


This Lubavitch win is very troubling…the Lubavitch press gloats
August 24, 2008, 5:27 pm
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Portland Chabad Rabbi Wins Right To Hold Prayer Services At Home

PORTLAND, MAINE — (August 22, 2008) Rebecca Rosenthal

(lubavitch.com) Faced with an outpouring of support from a very diverse group, Maine’s zoning board reversed its decision to prohibit a Chabad rabbi from hosting prayer services in his home at a hearing late Thursday night.

The 5-0 decision delighted the 200 people of all faiths who gathered at rally led by the Maine Civil Liberties Union in support of Chabad Lubavitch of Portland’s Rabbi Moshe Wilansky an hour before the zoning board began the hearing. Over thirty pastors and priests joined rabbis from local synagogues and leaders of the local Jewish Community Center, Jewish Federation and the Muslim community at the peaceful rally in front of city hall.

Standing outside of City Hall, Rabbi Wilansky addressed the rally. “Tonight people of all faiths and beliefs, have joined together for freedom of religion and all that is American,” said Rabbi Wilansky, “to ensure that all are treated equally and with dignity.”

Rabbi Wilansky, Chabad’s representative in Portland, ME, has been welcoming a group of fifteen worshippers in his home on the Jewish Sabbath and holidays for the last fifteen years. This past May, a member of the zoning board hand delivered a letter that stated the services violated local zoning codes. According to city documents provided to the group’s attorney, the decision was based on a single telephone complaint to City Hall.

MCLU counsel Zachary Heiden told Lubavitch.com: “Our mission is to protect the constitutional rights of individuals. One of the most important rights is the freedom to practice religion without government interference. In this case we feel the government has interfered” with Rabbi Wilansky’s right to worship.

To show support for religious freedom, Rabbi Alice Dubinsky sent notices out to her congregation at Temple Bet Ha’Am in south Portland, expressing hopes that one hundred families from the temple membership would attend.

“Numerous mainstream Portland churches advertise Bible study groups, women’s groups and church services in private homes. These are just as much ‘open to the public’ as Rabbi Wilansky’s Sabbath services,” wrote Phyllis Leeke, a Portland resident, in a letter that appeared in The Forecaster, a local newspaper. “The city doesn’t take action against landlords about noise and loud parties until after numerous complaints. Who made the decision to jump on Rabbi Wilansky after only one complaint?”

According to information received by Chabad’s attorney Marshall Tinkle, the board’s complaint stems from the number of parking spaces on the street occupied by those who join Rabbi Wilansky at the services and the website where service times are posted.

“Concerns about parking on the street and about a website inviting coreligionists to pray are not cause to infringe upon the First Amendment,” Tinkle said.

Portland Jewish Community Sets Sweet Precedent

PORTLAND, ME — (August 22, 2008) Baila Olidort

(lubavitch.com) Months after a legal battle threatening Portland’s Chabad rabbi’s right to hold prayer services in his home, Rabbi Moshe Wilansky came out a winner Thursday night.

But even prior to the midnight decision by the city’s zoning board, Rabbi Wilansky saw the cross denominational support this case generated as a “historic” development.

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An hour before the zoning board began its hearings Thursday evening, leaders of the entire Jewish community, including Reform and Conservative, and representatives of almost every church in Portland turned out at a rally led by the ACLU to protest the city’s ban on prayer services at the Chabad Rabbi’s home.

Protestors then joined Rabbi Wilansky inside City Hall. Hours into the hearing there was standing room only in the chambers, as a succession of religious representatives and Portland residents took to the witness stand to testify in support of Chabad.

Not one voice from the crowd was heard in opposition to Chabad.

Gratified and grateful for the unanimous decision by the zoning board, Rabbi Wilansky focused on the community-wide support Chabad enjoyed in this case.

“I feel it was truly a historic night for all the people of Portland. To see hundreds who came out from all religious faiths and from the entire Jewish spectrum—people who remained for hours late at night to hear the case and stand behind Chabad—that is tremendous.”

The case, which cut to the heart of the individual’s right to practice religion freely, was of obvious concern to religious people of all faiths. If the ban would hold, it might set precedents threatening numerous Chabad representatives who do not have designated synagogues and centers, and worship at home with their co-religionists, as it would religious people of other faiths.

But to some, the outspoken show of support for Chabad suggests that sweeter change may be astir. After all, it’s not the first time Chabad’s activities to help Jewish people practice Judaism, have been legally challenged. And it won’t be the last.

Standing with Chabad with remarkable unity, the Portland community may have set a precedent: maybe next time a Chabad representative finds himself at the mercy of his city’s zoning board, he won’t be standing alone.

Hopefully, others will feel as Caroline Braun does.

Rabbi of Temple Beth-El, the largest Conservative Synagogue in Northern New England, Rabbi Braun addressed hundreds at the rally prior to the hearing and said, “We can’t imagine Portland without Chabad.”

PORTLAND, ME — The city has reversed its decision to prohibit an orthodox rabbi from hosting weekly prayer services at his Portland home.

Zoning board of appeals members voted 5-0 late Thursday to allow Rabbi Moshe Wilansky to continue hosting Saturday prayer meetings, a ruling that eased the concerns of many religious leaders and civil liberties advocates.

The decision came after a demonstration on the steps of city hall that afternoon and passionate pleas from Wilansky supporters who crammed the meeting that followed.

The protest drew several area religious leaders and a crowd of more than 100 – many fearful the city’s interpretation of what constitutes a “place of worship” could have had sweeping consequences that put home-based prayer groups at risk.

“This is a part of our traditions that has existed since the beginning of Christianity,” said Eric C. Smith, congregational outreach coordinator for the Maine Council of Churches.

At issue was whether the city should consider 101 Craigie St. a residence or a place of worship

Zoning Administrator Marge Schmuckal delivered Wilansky a letter in late May, ordering him to stop Saturday prayer services at his home.

City officials said Wilansky has used his Craigie Street home as a synagogue for years. They said that put him in violation of zoning regulations because his property did not meet the two-acre minimum for places of worship in a residential neighborhood.

Wilansky attorney Marshall Tinkle and the Maine Civil Liberties Union appealed the order, saying it was an unconstitutional encroachment on his religious liberties.

Board members said the decision was outside the purpose of the city’s zoning laws.

“The zoning ordinance is not intended to get into people’s houses and regulate their behavior,” board member Gordon Smith said.

City officials said the zoning rules are meant to prevent parking disputes and traffic congestion in residential areas – the same type of complaints that have dogged Wilansky for approximately five years.

The May directive followed the latest traffic complaint from neighbor Mary Lewis, who, along with anonymous tipsters and public works employees, said the 29-foot-wide street is too narrow to accommodate the additional parked cars during the winter.

Wilansky and his backers said the rule effectively prevented him from practicing his religion at home.The rabbi is a member of the Chabad Lubavitch movement, one of the largest branches of Hasidic Judaism, and director of Chabad Lubavitch of Maine, which lists its headquarters as his home. No synagogue in Maine practices that brand of orthodox Judaism.

His supporters said the most important prayer of the Sabbath requires a quorum of 10 men and strict orthodox rules prevent driving on Saturdays, limiting Wilansky’s options for religious expression.

Most of the prayer service participants either walk or get a ride. That means although approximately 15 worshipers visit his house on Saturdays, they bring with them just five or six cars, Wilansky said.

Neighbors who spoke at the meeting said they had no complaints about the prayer services. Some said they lived on the street for years before they knew about them.

“I don’t understand why there is so much contention over this,” said Ralph Johnson, who lives at 95 Craigie St.

The city’s planning department said the rabbi had more ambitious aims than simply hosting a weekly prayer group. Director Penny Littell pointed to an advertisement on his Web site (www.chabadofmaine.com) as proof that his home is open to the general public during Sabbath prayer services.

But appeals board members said the Wilansky home was far from a synagogue.

Unlike most houses of worship, Wilansky pays taxes on the property, has no sign outside advertising services and does not hold major religious ceremonies – weddings, for example – inside, they said.

“The big events that happen in a person’s religious life don’t seem to be taking place here,” board member Deborah Rutter said.

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