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Ban on Shabbat candles drives hasidim from Welsh seaside resort

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Hasidim looking to vacation on the Welsh seaside are scrambling to find alternate arrangements after Aberystwyth University banned the use of candles in its residences.

Hundreds of Orthodox Jews have vacationed in the resort for over two decades, according to The Telegraph. Hasidim have traditionally taken up summer residence in Petre Jane Morgan, a university housing complex across a footbridge from the main campus.

But this year, the university has forbidden the lighting of naked flames, thereby preventing hasidim from lighting their Shabbat candles, a crucial ritual preparation for the Sabbath.

“Lighting candles on a Friday evening is part of our religion and being asked not to light them is like asking us not to breathe,” said a spokesman for the organizers of the visiting group.

The university claims that multiple incidents with lit candles, and a consultation with local fire authorities, spurred the ban. Despite efforts to mediate between the university and visiting Orthodox Jews, hasidim have elected to take their holidays elsewhere this year.

Fire plays a prominent role in Jewish observance, from Shabbat candles to the annual tradition of burning leavened products on the eve of Passover, creating longstanding concern about fire safety in the Jewish community.

In 2011, an elderly woman in the hasidic community of Kiryas Joel was hospitalized for burns from a Shabbat candle fire. And last year, a five-year-old in Ashdod suffered severe burns after her dress caught fire at a kindergarten Shabbat party.

Chabad.org includes fire safety instructions in its Sabbath candle lighting guide. And Aish HaTorah, an outreach organization whose name means “fire” but which only seeks to kindle the flame of religious observance, has instated a fire safety program. The project, Maccabee Aish Jewish Fire Prevention, calls itself the “First Jewish Fire Prevention Site on the Net,” and has detailed safety instructions for Shabbat and holiday candles as well as kid-friendly fire-safety activities. The site acknowledges that “holiday and Sabbath observant homes are at high risk for fire and burns,” and teaches families to offset these risks with vigilant attention to fire safety.

Matt Goldstein, the founder of Aish Maccabee Fire Prevention, was inspired to found the organization after his experiences as a Hatzalah ambulance paramedic. “It has become all too common to hear of fire related tragedies within the Jewish community,” he writes in the group’s mission statement.  “May we merit to never again hear of a fire related tragedy.”

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