Tel Aviv angers religious by seeking Sabbath buses (AP) Associated Press) By ARON HELLER JERUSALEM, ISRAEL 02/21/12 4:05 pm ET)
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JERUSALEM In the latest salvo in Israel´s simmering cultural war
between religious and secular Jews, municipal authorities in the
bustling metropolis of Tel Aviv have outraged the country´s religious
establishment with a decision to launch bus service on the Jewish
The effort likely to be blocked by the government comes as the
country´s powerful religious minority faces increasing pressure over
what many perceive to be attempts to impose religious tenets on the
rest of the country.
Recent months have seen a growing uproar over issues such as the
segregation of men and women on buses and sidewalks by ultra-Orthodox
Jews and the group´s non-participation in the workforce, relying
instead on government subsidies.
Also Tuesday, Israel´s Supreme Court ruled against extending the
controversial "Tal Law" that lays out a plan by which ultra-Orthodox
Jews, who devote their lives to full time Torah study, would perform
deferred and limited military service.
The ultra-Orthodox have historically been able to find exemptions
from military service, a practice which is resented by many secular
Israelis. The law was seen as a compromise attempt to bring them into
the army, but had little effect and was seen as a failure.
Religious life in Israel is dominated by a strict Orthodox
establishment, which wields significant power over issues such as
marriage and burial. It typically resists alterations to the so
called "status quo" on religious issues, agreed upon when Israel was
established in 1948.
As part of this arrangement, there is no public transportation in
most Israeli cities mixed Jewish-Arab Haifa being a notable
exception from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday and on Jewish
holidays. But the city council of largely secular Tel Aviv voted late
Monday to draft a request to Israel´s Transportation Ministry to
allow lines to operate on the Sabbath.
"Israel is the only country in the world in which there is no public
transportation in one out of four days, on Saturdays and holidays,"
Mayor Ron Huldai said in a statement Tuesday. "We must ask ourselves
what does a person who can´t afford to buy a car and wants to visit
his family or go to the beach do?"
The national transportation ministry had no comment.
Public transportation is decided on the national level, so the city
has no power to enforce such a move. But should the bill be rejected,
as expected, Tel Aviv´s city hall said it will establish an
independent transportation company to run the buses.
Israel Meir Lau, the city´s chief rabbi, said Tuesday he felt "great
pain and deep disappointment" with the plan and called on the mayor
to reverse it.
"This is a severe blow to the sanctity of the Sabbath," he said in a
statement. "The city council recommendation harms the status quo upon
which the policies of all Israeli governments are based."
Despite Israel´s secular majority, ultra-Orthodox rabbis strictly
govern Jewish practices such as weddings, burials or conversions and
only allow them for those who meet Orthodox definitions of a Jew.
Israel grants citizenship to any Jew Reform, Conservative or
Orthodox but once in Israel, many who consider themselves Jewish
cannot get married or have a Jewish burial.
The plight of an eight-year-old girl who was recently spat upon by
ultra-Orthodox extremists for dressing "immodestly" drew new
attention to the simmering issue. (© 2012 The Associated Press
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