Siren call to Shabbat is silenced

By Leon Symons, November 13, 2008

While Shabbat itself is a haven of peace and quiet, the few minutes leading up to it on a Friday afternoon have caused quite a bit of noise in one Jewish area.

A Shabbat siren has been announcing the imminent arrival of the Sabbath in Stamford Hill in North East London. In fact, it is not a siren, but rather, a selection of music and songs being played over a number of loudspeakers.

But it has caused a row in the community between those who have welcomed the sound as making the area "more like Jerusalem" - including a "save our Shabbos sirens" group on the Facebook social network site - and those who have opposed it, on the grounds that it could upset both Jews and non-Jews within earshot.

The siren was first introduced for the winter of 2006 by two men in the community - communications engineer Avram Pifko and a friend, Chaim Kahan.

Teacher Osher Baddiel, whose opposition has been highlighted on the Facebook pro-siren site, has taken up the cudgels on behalf of those opposed to the siren.

Mr Baddiel said this week: "The siren has been used only in the winter and sounded two minutes before Shabbos started. Some people said it felt like being in Jerusalem - but Stamford Hill isn't Jerusalem.

"I and many other people felt that it was not right to do this. We have our shuls and our Yiddishkeit but we don't need to foist ourselves and our religion in the faces of our host country like this. It is too much and many people were unhappy about it."

Mr Baddiel, who is in his 60s and lives in Fairholt Road, approached one of those behind the siren and asked him to stop.

"He refused and told me that the rabbonim didn't mind. So I checked with the Union of Orthodox Hebrew Congregations who said they had told this man a number of times that they didn't want it either," said Mr Baddiel.

It was only when the Union put their views in writing that the sirens finally ceased wailing.

"He could not argue any more because the rabbonim had made their views plain," said Mr Baddiel.

A member of the committee who supported the siren's introduction said: "Thousands of children run every Friday to their doors and windows to hear the Shabbat music.

"It gives them a great feeling of being in Israel and Shabbat, and hundreds of women light candles at that moment."

He explained that the siren was employed only in winter because in the summer, some people bring in Shabbat early "and it might upset both Jews and non-Jews if it were sounded later in the evening.

"We are working with the rabbonim and they have listened to what the community has said. We hope it will be reintroduced."

On Mr Baddiel's point about Jerusalem, the spokesman said: "There is a famous verse from the book of Psalms which says: ‘If you forget about Jerusalem, you forget about God'. That is how we feel about that."

Yaakov Conrad, registrar of the UOHC, confirmed that it had been approached about the siren but said that its Beth Din was still deliberating on the matter. In the meantime it had asked that the siren be silenced.

In Manchester's Broughton Park neighbourhood, there has been a siren sounded before the start of Shabbat for about a year.

Last year, plans to broadcast the Muslim call to prayer from a mosque in Oxford were attacked by local residents.

Last updated: 12:05pm, November 13 2008



Fri, 11/14/2008 - 13:52

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Reb Chaim Kanievsky was consulted by Reb Yudel Shain re: the Shabbos Sirens prior to installing the in Lakewood, New Jersey USA.

The whole issue was discussed, the fact that we live amongst others, we are in Golus, should it be music or a horn etc.

Yudel Shain