Touro College Sues State Over Shabbat Elevator
Shmarya Rosenberg • Failedmessiah.com
The Orthodox-founded Touro College, which enrolls a large number of haredi yeshiva and seminary students seeking college degrees, planned to rig one of the two elevators in an Upper West Side apartment building it owns to automatically stop at each floor of the six story building from the beginning of Shabbat on Friday afternoon until Shabbat ends after sunset on Saturday night.
Jewish students occupy 43 apartments in the building. Rent-controlled, rent-stabilized non-student tenants occupy 39 others.
Those rent-controlled and rent-stabilized tenants object to the Shabbat elevator plan because they will have to wait longer for an elevator than they already do on the day of the week when many of them do their weekly grocery shopping and laundry and as a result have a greater need for the elevators.
The state’s Division of Housing and Community Renewal blocked Touro’s plan and, as a result, the Daily News reports, Touro is suing the state.
Touro’s court filings reportedly claim that the delays these non-student tenants would experience are minor – 1 minute, 23 seconds at most.
But Touro went beyond technical claims – it also accused the tenants’ association of having a “discriminatory and anti-Semitic tone” because it says Touro’s students are young and therefore should be able to climb the stairs on Shabbat.
Tenants’ association president James Berry strongly disagrees.
“This is not about civil rights. The problem is that Touro has made this building into a dormitory in violation of the building’s certificate of occupancy,” he reportedly said.
[Hat Tip: adams.]
Update 2:03 pm CDT – A spokesman for the Touro College and University System sent me the following statement from Touro:
STATEMENT BY TOURO COLLEGE AND UNIVERSITY SYSTEM
Since the founding of Touro College in 1971, the college’s main campus has been based in New York City and many branches of the school are also based in Manhattan, where Touro provides affordable education to a diverse constituency.
Like other institutions of higher learning, Touro has faced challenges in providing affordable housing for its students. To meet the housing needs of students at our West Side campus, Touro acquired 10 West 65th Street, which was approximately 50 percent vacant when we purchased it in 2008. It always has been our intention to use the available units to house students from Landers College for Women – many or all of whom are Sabbath-observant.
10 West 65th Street contains two elevators. To accommodate our students while respecting the other tenants, we followed the widely used practice of allowing one -- and only one -- of the elevators in the building to be operated as a “Shabbos elevator,” meaning that for 25 hours a week, it would automatically stop on every floor – adding a total of 1 minute and 23 seconds to a ride from the lobby to the sixth floor.
It is unfortunate that the state’s Department of Housing and Community renewal chose to intervene at the request of some of the tenants -- who, in the most offensive and discriminatory way -- objected to this practice.
We therefore are seeking relief through a judicial proceeding to allow us, as property owner, to operate the building in a manner that is compatible with the religious practices of its student tenants and which poses minimum disruption to other residents.
Ultimately, we believe this matter can be resolved to the satisfaction of all parties in an amicable manner. Our aim is for all residents to live in and enjoy this building.