FREEHOLD TOWNSHIP — Seven members of the township Zoning Board of Adjustment unanimously decided Thursday that a local rabbi is, in fact, running a house of worship out of his home.
“If it walks like a duck, and talks like a duck, it probably is a duck,” zoning board member William Nero said before the board voted. “And without question, this is a duck.”
Nero was referring to 351 Stillwells Corner Road, the home of Rabbi Avraham Bernstein.
Bernstein’s neighbors have long complained that Bernstein is running religious services out of his home, which is located across the street from the township Municipal Complex.
The township does permit houses of worship in residential areas, but requires a use variance for their operation. Bernstein — a member of the Jewish organization Chabad Lubavitch — does not have a use variance to run services out of his home.
After years of mounting frustration among his neighbors, one — Paul Sweda, who lives next to Bernstein — asked the zoning board to determine whether Bernstein is operating a house of worship in violation of the township’s zoning ordinances.
The board began hearing the case in January. During the hearing process, the board heard from several witnesses who described watching people visit Bernstein’s home on Fridays and Saturdays, and observing what they believed to be religious celebrations at the house.
Based on that testimony and their own observations, board members said they felt assured that Bernstein’s home met the definition of a house of worship.
To be a house of worship, a property must be used for traditional services, meetings or gatherings of an organized religious body or community, which are presided over by an ordained or “otherwise officially recognized” leader of the body or community.