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Jewish Groups Split on Sandy Aid to Synagogues

Jewish organizations are split on whether federal emergency funds should be used to fund repairs to synagogues, scores of which suffered severe damage in superstorm Sandy.

The Orthodox Union and the American Jewish Committee backed an amendment introduced by Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) just before the 112th Congress retired that would have designated Superstorm Sandy relief money to houses of worship, the New York Times reported Friday.

The amendment never made it to the floor and Lieberman is now retired, but other lawmakers may take up similar legislation in the 113th Congress now in session.

Also backing the legislation is Agudath Israel of America. The New York Jewish Federation has counseled constituent synagogues to apply for Federal Emergency Management Agency money. FEMA rules do not necessarily count out such assistance.

The Anti-Defamation League opposes such assistance, however.

“It is not discriminatory to prohibit federal funds for rebuilding houses of worship, because the Constitution protects religious freedom by preventing the government from funding or endorsing any religion,” Michael Lieberman, ADL’s Washington counsel, said in an email. “A taxpayer should not have to fund a religion or a religious institution with which s/he disagrees.”

The Reform movement is still considering its specific response to the post-Sandy crisis, but has in the past opposed the use of such funds as potentially violating church-state separations.

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