Yeshiva Meon HaTorah Faces Another Battle in Roosevelt


rooseveltYeshiva Meon HaTorah, led by Rav Yisroel Meir Eisenberg and located in Congregation Anshei Roosevelt in Roosevelt, NJ. was dealt another legal blow this week from the borough, which maintained that the yeshiva is operating an illegal dormitory inside a house on Homestead Lane.

But the battle may not be over, as the attorney representing the yeshiva said he plans to appeal the local¬†Planning Board’s decision that affirms the house’s status as a residence to Monmouth County Superior Court.

By an 8-0 vote Tuesday, the Planning Board denied Yeshiva Me’on Hatorah’s appeal of a cease-and-desist order it received in March that it was operating a dormitory inside the two-story structure at 28 Homestead Lane, which is against the borough’s zoning rules.

Yeshiva attorney Edward Liston Jr. argued that the house is not being used a dormitory, despite the fact it is home to about 30 teens during the school year.

In the sparse case he presented to the board, Mr. Liston offered no evidence, called no witnesses, and only referenced a 1990 New Jersey Family Court ruling he said establishes precedent for the youth to live inside the house. That ruling, Borough of Glassboro v. Vallorosi, established that a group of 10 college sophomores living together in Glassboro comprised a “functioning family unit” and hence did not violate that borough’s residential zoning rules.

Borough Attorney Richard Shaklee’s defense was that the nearly two-decades-old ruling did not apply in this case because, unlike the college students, the youth living in the Homestead Lane house are in a dwelling owned by the yeshiva¬†for the purpose of receiving an education.

“Vallorosi dealt with a structure not owned by a school. That was a group of adults who came together for a common purpose,” Mr. Shaklee said during his closing statement. “The structure on Homestead Lane is a facility run by a school. Common sense tells us these situations are very different.”

Mr. Liston insisted the opposite is true.

“Frankly, I don’t expect this board to agree with me. Perhaps a higher tribunal will,” he said during his closing statement.

“This is an issue of constitutional magnitude,” he added.

The Planning Board came to its decision immediately after the hearing was completed, even though it had until Aug. 11 to reach a conclusion, according to board attorney Michelle Tomallo.

Only three of the board members explained the thinking behind their decision.

“Given that the burden of proof is on the appellate, the appellate said nothing to persuade me,” said Arlene Stinson.

Alison Petrilla said her experience as a teacher played a role in her decision.

“I used to teach in a single-sex boarding school, and don’t see much difference between the cottages we used as dorms and what I see here,” she said.

And Chairwoman Jane Rothfuss said she was simply perplexed by the yeshiva’s argument.

“Very little was said by the appellate. I really don’t even understand what their argument is,” she said.

After the hearing, Mr. Liston admitted that there are 30 boys living inside the house, but stopped short of calling the building a dormitory. When asked why he didn’t offer evidence or call witnesses, he said, “I don’t want to subject my clients to the treatment they’ve received so far from this community.”

Mr. Liston refused to characterize what that treatment was, but during the hearing he repeatedly accused the board of being prejudiced against his clients. “The wind is blowing right in my clients’ faces and blowing them straight out of town,” he had said during his closing statement.

Mr. Liston added that he plans to appeal the decision and declined to answer any other questions.

For the borough’s part, Mr. Shaklee said that officials would discuss what their next steps would be. Any action would depend on whether the yeshiva goes ahead with an appeal, he added.

During the hearing, which was held over two consecutive Tuesdays in the Roosevelt Public School gymnasium to accommodate the crowds of more than 50 people, Mr. Shaklee called a number of witnesses who testified that many adolescent boys could be seen walking from the Homestead Lane house to the yeshiva during traditional school time months. During Tuesday’s portion, Gail Hunton, of 19 Homestead Lane, said she would normally see groups of adolescents milling about on the street and creating noise problems.

“They are astoundingly loud,” she said.

“Believe me, it’s not the normal noise you’d expect in a residential area. My husband sometimes wears earphones to block out the noise,” she added.

Thomas Thomas, a zoning officer from Brielle, gave expert testimony that everything he has seen indicated the house is being used as a dormitory.

“Dorms are held to different New Jersey Fire Safety Code, Uniform Code of Construction and Housing Code regulations than residential dwellings are,” Mr. Thomas said.

He went on to explain that dorms are classified as buildings owned by public or private schools where students live in order to attend.

“Under any circumstance this building would be classified as a dorm,” he added.

In 2007, the state Department of Community Affairs, which serves as the borough’s code office, ruled that the yeshiva was operating three buildings – 28 Homestead Lane, 18 Homestead Lane and 53 N. Rochelle Avenue – as illegal dormitories.

At the time DCA said all three buildings were overcrowded and contained “imminent hazards” such as faulty electrical work and no sprinkler systems. The DCA also said that no more than five people could occupy each building.

Mr. Shaklee said this week that the synagogue closed the operation on Rochelle Avenue, but he refused to discuss the building at 18 Homestead Lane.

The zoning laws allow for religious institutions to operate in the area of the three houses, but not dormitories.

{Matt Chiappardi, The Packet Group/ Newscenter}


  1. Why not just apply for a zoning variance? If they can’t get it, why not just find dormitory space where it’s legal and the neighbors won’t object?