An American court of appeals has ruled in a split decision against the right of Jews to post the traditional mezuzah on the doorposts of a condominium apartment if the bylaws of the building prohibit signs and objects on outside doors. The mezuzah contains parchment with verses from the Torah and is an ancient tradition commanded by the Torah before the Exodus of Jews from Egypt.
We cannot create an accommodation requirement for religion.
In the 2-1 decision, the court stated, "The hallway rule ... is neutral with respect to religion. It bans photos of family vacations, political placards, for-sale notices, and Chicago Bears pennants. We cannot create an accommodation requirement for religion. Our job is not to make the law the best it can be, but to enforce the law actually enacted."
Dissenting Judge Diane Wood said that leaving the rule in tact would amount to "constructive eviction" of observant Jewish residents. "Hallway Rule 1 operates exactly as a red-lining rule does with respect to the ability of the owner to sell to observant Jews," she wrote in her opinion. "The [condominium] association might as well hang a sign outside saying 'No observant Jews allowed.'"
The case involves the Shoreline Towers of Chicago and condominium owners Lynne Bloch and her two children, who live in three units. Building managers had removed the mezuzot from their doors while the family was at a funeral for Lynne Bloch's husband in 2004. The family put them back on the doorposts several times until the city passed a law allowing religious displays on doors.
The family sued for damages, but the court backed the right of the condominium group to establish its own laws. The Blochs are considering appealing to the Supreme Court, claiming there was an intention to discriminate against observant Jews.
In her dissenting opinion, Judge Wood noted that the condominium association's brief charged that the Bloch family was trying to get a "pound of flesh" from the group. She pointed out that the phrase appears in a literary work by Shakespeare and refers to the character Shylock, a moneylender who was punished by being forced to convert to Christianity.
"This is hardly the reference someone should choose who is trying to show that the stand-off ... was not because of the Blochs' religion, but rather in spite of it," she wrote.