LAKEWOOD — An Ocean County Superior Court judge has given Rabbi Chaim Abadi 30 days to remove materials from a Vermont Avenue dump site or pay $1,000 for each day the religious items remain buried there.
For two years, Abadi of Miller Road and the state Department of Environmental Protection have been battling over the dump site. The DEP has ordered the rabbi to remove the buried religious items because the agency contends it could contaminate a nearby township drinking well.
Thousands of bags are buried in two sites, one in Lakewood and another in Jackson, and Abadi was ordered by Judge Craig L. Wellerson to relocate them to an appropriate dump site. Abadi’s 30 days began as of July 27.
“This is a completely secular issue,” said Larry Ragonese, spokesman for the DEP. “It is not a cemetery, it is a landfill.”
The articles buried are known as “shaimos,” an Orthodox Jewish ritual in which religious items are not thrown away but must be laid to rest in a proper burial under a rabbi’s blessing. Abadi provided the shaimos service, accepting the sacred articles such as texts and religious garments, but he buried the articles in places not suited for dumping.
The Jackson site is located on Frank Applegate Road, according to the Ocean County tax map.
Abadi had applied for a local zoning variance to declare the property a cemetery while he was under court order to remove the articles from both sites. The variance request hearing was postponed from June 4 to Aug. 27.
Abadi, reached by phone Wednesday, said he could not make a statement on the matter until after he has a consultation with his attorney.
Wellerson’s decision states Abadi must provide 48-hour notice to the township before he begins remediation of the site. When the rabbi is finished, he is ordered to tell the judge that the job is complete.
The materials were buried in Jackson in 2009 and in Lakewood in 2010. The Lakewood site is near an active water well.
“The possibility of decaying materials making their way down into a water source is the greatest risk with burying materials without the proper preparations for materials,” Ragonese said. “Environmentally the rules are clear. You cannot create a landfill on your own without permission. You need approval to create a landfill.”
Lakewood Township Committeeman Steven Langert said he hopes to see the “matter resolved once and for all.”
“Let’s not forget the bottom line is that if there is even an outside chance any drinking water wells could be tainted, that is the last thing that anybody wants,” Langert said.