Hands Off My Mezuzah

Court to determine condo association vs. religious beliefs

When the hallways of Lynne Bloch's condo building were renovated in 2004, the condominium board said they wanted to maintain a cleaner look.

The board said that residents should keep their shoes and shopping carts indoors. Nothing was to be tacked to their doors or the corridors' walls.

But, Bloch objected to the new decree, saying that, as a Jew, she was obligated to display a mezuzah.

And you shall write [the words that I command you today] on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.
- Deuteronomy 6:9, 11:19

A mezuzah is a scroll-like container with biblical passages that Jews nail to their doorposts. The one on Bloch's door was removed by the condo association five years ago, then returned and removed several times since, the Chicago Tribune reports.

In that time, Bloch, joined by her daughter and son-in-law, filed a lawsuit against Shoreline Towers, the 25-story North Sheridan Road condominium building where mother and daughter live in separate homes.

"Mrs. Bloch was on the committee that developed the original hallway rules and knew that those rules applied to 'objects of any sort," said Terri Shank, a spokesperson for the Shoreline Towers condo association. "Additionally, an amendment to that rule was made and implemented in 2005, yet Mrs. Bloch was the only Board member to not vote to approve it."

The Tribune reports:

When the case came before a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit last year, the justices were divided on what should be their guiding principle: Is it the right to freedom of religion or of freedom from religion?

Writing for the majority, Chief Judge Frank Easterbrook ruled: "An entitlement of one group to display its symbols may cause unease for other faiths that abhor all icons."

Justice Diane Wood dissented: "In my view, the Blochs are raising a straightforward claim of discrimination based on their Jewish religion and ethnicity."

And so the legal wrangling continued with the Blochs' lawsuit being settled before trial, and an appeal being filed with the federal appeals court.

That hearing goes to court on Wednesday, "perhaps because it originated in a conflict between the Book of Deuteronomy and the rules of the Shoreline Towers condominium," the Tribune said. 

In the meantime, the ammended rule regarding door-front displays allows items of "sincerely held beliefs" to be hung on the doors of the lakefront building.  

Lynn Bloch's door is recognizable for its mezuzah, and Bloch is not the only resident of Shoreline Towers who's adhereing to her religious belief.

In fact, Jews at most any condominium or apartment building in the city are doing the same; hanging the mezuzah as "a symbol of God's watchful care over the home."

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