HERSCHEL CHOMSKY, ALAN GOLDSMITH and ZEPHYR CHOMSKY, individually and on behalf of CONGREGATION SHAAREY TEFILOH OF PERTH AMBOY, NEW JERSEY, Plaintiffs-Appellants,
SHEP SEWITCH, WILLIAM SEWITCH, BARRY ROSENGARTEN and GEORGE COHN, Defendants-Respondents.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Argued January 29, 2013
On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Middlesex County, Docket No. C-208-11.
Larry S. Loigman argued the cause on behalf of appellants (Larry S. Loigman, attorney; Ira W. Heller, of counsel; Mr. Loigman, on the brief).
Avram S. Eule argued the cause on behalf of respondents (Carella, Byrne, Cecchi, Olstein, Brody & Agnello, attorneys; Kenneth L. Winters and Mr. Eule, on the brief).
Before Judges Messano and Lihotz.
Plaintiffs Herschel Chomsky, Alan Goldsmith, and Zephyr Chomsky are members of Congregation Shaarey Tefiloh (the Congregation), an Orthodox Jewish synagogue in Perth Amboy. Herschel Chomsky is a member of the Congregation's five-person Presidium. Defendants Shep Sewitch, William Sewitch, Barry Rosengarten, and George Cohn are also members of the Congregation and its Presidium. Plaintiffs' complaint, submitted on an order to show cause, challenged defendants' exercised authority on behalf of the majority of the Presidium, to approve the dissolution of the Congregation and sale of its Perth Amboy property. Plaintiffs sought to enjoin defendants' action and compel transfer of the dispute to the Congregation's designated beth din, a religious arbitral tribunal, for resolution under Halacha, or Jewish law.
Chancery Division Judge Frank M. Ciuffani considered the issues during a four-day trial. In a written opinion, Judge Ciuffani declined to adjudicate whether defendants complied with Jewish law, and denied plaintiffs' request to transfer the dispute to the Jewish tribunal. The judge determined defendants and the Presidium complied with the Congregation's bylaws and abided by all applicable statutory requirements. He entered judgment for defendants and dismissed plaintiffs' complaint, with prejudice. Plaintiffs appeal. We affirm.
The facts are taken from the trial record. We confine our recitation to those facts related to the issues on appeal.
The Congregation was formed as an Orthodox Jewish religious corporation in 1903, incorporated pursuant to N.J.S.A. 16:1-1. The Congregation's constitution and bylaws provide for a five-member Presidium, comprised of the executive officers elected by the Congregation. The Presidium, which serves as the entity's board of trustees, carried out the duties and functions of the Congregation.
In years past, the Congregation had several hundred members. However, by 2010, total membership had declined to twenty-seven. For many years, the Congregation was without a rabbi and remained unable to assemble a minyan (ten Jewish males) for the Sabbath.
On August 8, 2010, a special meeting of the Congregation was held to discuss a proposal for the dissolution of the Congregation and sale of its real property. Because of the Congregation's desperate financial situation and bleak prospects of recruiting an Orthodox Jewish group, such as a yeshiva, to occupy the synagogue and finance its continued operation, the following motion was presented:
1. The Presidium shall engage proficient legal counsel to assist and advise in the dissolution of Congregation Shaarey Tefiloh.
2. The Presidium shall engage real estate brokers to place the building for sale.
3. The Congregation shall conduct Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur services this year, after which the Shule shall ...