A Chabad rabbi in Short Hills met with a Millburn Township official last week, in part to discuss zoning concerns and in part to distinguish himself from another local rabbi whose plans to build a new synagogue are facing local opposition.
Rabbi Mendel Solomon, who holds Shabbat services at Ahavat Torah, his property on White Oak Ridge Road, met Aug. 5 with Millburn Township engineer Tom Watkinson.
Earlier the town informed Solomon that he appears to be in violation of a zoning ordinance prohibiting the operation of a synagogue out of his home.
Accompanying Solomon was Rabbi Steven Bayar of Congregation B’nai Israel in Millburn, a Conservative synagogue. Bayar supports Solomon’s right to hold religious functions in his home.
“The only thing he has at his house is a minyan. I’m convinced he has a right to do what he’s doing,” said Bayar. “The issue clergy should be aware of is the ability for anyone to hold a prayer service in his house.”
Bayar said Solomon’s activities are distinct from those of Rabbi Mendel Bogomilsky. Bogomilsky is seeking zoning variances to build the Chai Center, a 16,350-square-foot synagogue on a double lot on Jefferson Avenue. Bogomilsky and his supporters have defended those plans before the Millburn Township Zoning Board of Adjustment in the face of sometimes heated opposition.
Solomon is affiliated with the Rabbinical College of America in Morristown, the New Jersey headquarters of the Brooklyn-based Chabad Lubavitch World Headquarters. Bogomilsky, although Lubavitch-trained, is not affiliated with the RCA or the World Headquarters.
“This has nothing to do with Bogomilsky’s operation,” Bayar said, discussing Solomon’s operations with a reporter. Bayar has been critical of Bogomilsky’s building plans and his presentation to township officials. He hopes Solomon is able to avoid the lengthy and divisive hearing process that has surrounded the Chai Center, he said.
“There’s a natural inclination to lump them together since they are both Chabad rabbis,” said Bayar. “And there’s a perception that’s what’s happening. Rabbi Solomon has been operating well over 10 years. All of a sudden, he’s been asked by the township to show that his is not a house of worship. It’s about timing.”
Watkinson offered few details about his meeting with Solomon and Bayar.
“We have some litigation going on that does not directly involve him, but it involves issues about houses of worship, and we have a special counsel handling this,” he told NJ Jewish News.
If the goal of the meeting was to avoid litigation, its impact is still unclear.
“Rabbi Solomon has some information he has to get to me still before any decision is made,” said Watkinson.
Solomon did not respond to messages from NJJN.
Bogomilsky was traveling and could not be reached for comment.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this article incorrectly reported that Rabbi Mendel Solomon holds "daily" services at Ahavat Torah, his property on White Oak Ridge Road. Daily services are not held at Ahavat Torah. The article has been updated to reflect this correction. NJJN regrets the error.