The Chabad outpost in midtown Manhattan spent $10,000 to put up a sukkah in Bryant Park, which is also home to a winter skating rink, a summer film series, and, twice a year, to big white Fashion Week tents. (The sukkah is “like Fashion Week a couple of weeks ago,” one lunchtime visitor told the New York Times’ City Room, “but with more yarmulkes.”) But City Room blogger Sarah Maslin Nir wondered why a sukkah—one, for the record, not as architecturally daring as this one, or this one, or these, but perfectly utilitarian and nicely decorated with flowers and fir branches—is OK in the city-owned, privately-run park. After all, we know that chiseled monuments of the Ten Commandments are decidedly not OK on public property, and people have spent years arguing about whether giant crosses can stand on federal land. How come a hut erected in honor of a holiday that thanks God for the bounties of the harvest, by a group devoted to welcoming misplaced Jews into the fold of observance, hasn’t generated a peep? According to a couple of lawyers Nir spoke with, the sukkah passes the church-state separation smell test because it’s more like a Christmas tree than a nativity scene—that is, something that doesn’t promote “religion” and which is open to anyone who wants to go sit inside. Daniel Mach, an ACLU lawyer, said it’s also fine as long as the city doesn’t block other religious groups from putting up similar displays.
So, go ahead, shake the lulav! We can’t wait to see what the park has planned for Diwali.
Legal Musings on Bryant Park Sukkah [NYT/City Room]