Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Court rules ‘illegal’ Montreal Hasidic synagogue can stay despite campaign to shut it down 

Alex Werzberger, head of the Coalition of Outremont Hasidic Organizations, stands in front of the Munchas Elozer Munkas synagogue.

News reports have branded it an “illegal synagogue,” and local activists at odds with the neighbourhood’s growing Hasidic population have campaigned to have it shut down, but a court has ruled that prayers can continue within Congregation Munchas Elozer Munkas.

Nobody disputes that the 35-year-old synagogue located inside a converted duplex violates the municipal zoning bylaw. But in an April 18 ruling, Quebec Superior Court Justice André Prévost rejected the city’s attempt to end “activities of worship and religion” in the building.

Judge Prévost found that there were “exceptional circumstances” in the synagogue’s case, and that a “strict, rigorous and blind application of the bylaw” would create an injustice.

It is the latest flashpoint in the long-running tensions between the Hasidim and their Outremont neighbours, and one community leader called the ruling an important victory for the roughly 35-family congregation.

“It means the individual victory for this particular synagogue, which has been harassed — and that’s the only word I can use — for close to 35 years,” said Alex Werzberger, head of the Coalition of Outremont Hasidic Organizations, which supported the synagogue’s legal defence. “And it gives the community sort of a lift, because maybe the pendulum is starting to swing a little bit upwards.”


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