Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Israeli synagogue silences pre-Shabbat melody after neighborhood outcry 

For the past several months, the Belz Hasidic synagogue on Ahad Ha'am Street in the center of Tel Aviv has been playing a Jewish melody from loudspeakers on the roof of the building just prior to the onset of Shabbat. After neighbors in the area complained, the volume of the music was turned down, but that did not satisfy some people in the area, which is just a stone's throw from the symbol of secular Israeli popular culture, Sheinkin Street. Now the synagogue's management has agreed to stop playing the pre-Shabbat music altogether.

The synagogue posted notices about its decision to stop the music around the neighborhood. "We know that many residents (including secular residents of the neighborhood) will regret this decision," the notice said, "but to avoid a commotion and bad atmosphere in the neighborhood, we understand that this is the right step."

One of the members of the synagogue management, Rabbi Moshe Breish, who signed the notice, said his congregation had received complaints from people who considered the music an intrusion on their privacy, but others went further and claimed that it was an effort by ultra-Orthodox Jews to take over the neighborhood and an example of religious coercion.

"We have lived here in the neighborhood for 50 years," Breish said. "We have never made an effort to exert any kind of control and are not forcing anything on anyone, but if people feel that way, we don't need [the music]."

He expressed regret over having to stop it, however.

"It's a shame. It was nice. It was a minute and a half of music, [the song] 'Lecha Dodi' prior to Shabbat," he said, noting that a secular woman who lives in the area called him to ask why he had stopped playing the music.

He acknowledged, however, that a similar attempt to play music two years ago was also stopped after neighbors complained.

One neighbor told Haaretz that she had viewed the music as religious coercion but did not believe there was any tension between religious and secular residents of the area.

For its part, the Tel Aviv Municipality said city hall had not received complaints about the music, adding that municipal noise ordinances do not specifically address this situation, but they do bar the use of loudspeakers and public address systems in residential areas unless it is in connection with a public event. Under those circumstances, it requires city approval and cannot be unreasonably loud.


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