Storm erupts over public transportation on Shabbat (JERUSALEM POST) By JEREMY SHARON 02/22/12)
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Political, religious and social activism leaders traded blows on
Tuesday following Monday’s decision by the Tel Aviv Municipality to
advance a request to the Transportation Ministry to operate city
public transportation on Shabbat.
Following the approval of the proposal, a spokesman said the
ministry “[would] not infringe [upon] the status quo which has been
in place for decades regarding all aspects of public transport on
In response, Meretz leader Zehava Gal-On called on the attorney-
general to explain to Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz (Likud)
that he is obliged to use professional considerations alone in
weighing such requests.
“The status quo regarding religion and state has no legal validity,
and the refusal of the minister to grant a license would not stand up
to examination by the High Court of Justice,” Gal-On said.
The secular majority in Tel Aviv wants public transportation on
Shabbat, as indicated in the hearing and vote yesterday, she said,
calling the issue a matter of social justice, environmental concern
and freedom of religion. “The secular community will not force those
who observe the commandments to get on buses, but the need and desire
of people without private vehicles to get about on the weekend must
also be respected,” she added.
The “status quo” refers to an understanding created in 1947 between
David Ben- Gurion and the Agudat Yisrael movement, which represented
the period’s ultra-Orthodox community, that addressed the community’s
concerns about the status of religion in the putative state.
Since then, the so-called status quo has preserved the statuses – as
they were in 1947 – of many religious issues, including public
In general, establishments providing leisure activities and food may
stay open on Shabbat, while most other shops are closed.
Many restaurants nevertheless close because the rabbinate will not
provide a certificate of kashrut if they open on Shabbat.
Limited bus service runs in Haifa on Shabbat as per the status quo,
which was originally put in place to account for the needs of the
city’s large non-Jewish population.
Meretz councilwoman Tamar Zandberg, who proposed the initiative, said
on Tuesday that the time has come to open up the issue for public
“This is something which has not been approved by the public, and the
public has never chosen in a democratic way to implement it,”
She added that a compromise was preferable, allowing the city to
operate a basic but substantial public transport system with the
option of excluding some neighborhoods.
In a recent study examining the level of Jewish religiosity in Israel
conducted by the Israel Democracy Institute and the Avi Chai
Foundation, 59 percent of respondents said they were in favor of
public transportation on Shabbat and 68% said that weekday
activities, such as going to cinemas, cafes and restaurants, should
be available on the Sabbath as well.
The Shabbat transportation request will be presented formally in the
coming days to the ministry’s commissioner of public transportation,
who is legally authorized to approve such requests in cases where a
municipality considers such services to be essential.
If it is rejected, activists say that they will seek to establish an
independent bus company to operate on Shabbat.
Mickey Gitzin, director of the Be Free Israel secularist movement
that worked in conjunction with Zandberg to advance the proposal,
said the organization will now encourage other municipalities to make
similar requests, in order to bring the issue to the national and
Yisrael Meir Lau, chief rabbi of Tel Aviv and former chief rabbi of
Israel, wrote to Mayor Ron Huldai on Tuesday, calling on him to
reverse the decision.
“A feeling of deep disappointment and pain filled me when I heard
about this decision,” Lau wrote. “[It] would be a serious injury to
the sanctity of Shabbat – which is a reminder of the creation of the
universe, a reminder of the Exodus from Egypt, a day of rest for all
workers and a day of spiritual elevation and family togetherness.”
Lau called on the interior and transportation ministers to reject the
Several religious MKs also weighed in on the issue. MK Uri Orbach
from the national- religious Habayit Hayehudi party called the move
a “cheap provocation” and said the mayor should ensure that
transportation during the week is good enough before dealing with
In a Channel 2 interview, MK Nissim Ze’ev (Shas) said Israel
is “first and foremost a Jewish state, and after that a democratic
one. Tel Aviv can’t behave in a different manner than other cities in
The Tzohar national-religious rabbinical association also called on
the municipality to refrain from damaging Israel’s Jewish character
without a broad public debate.
“Because we live together, and the importance of maintaining the
state´s Jewish character, I believe that any decision that affects
all residents – religious and secular – needs to be made through
public discussion and consensus rather than unilateral action,” said
Tzohar chairman Rabbi David Stav.
Rabbi Uri Regev, director of the Hiddush religious freedom lobbying
group, said the transportation minister should “respond to the will
of the public, and not surrender to pressure from the haredi
[political] parties.” (© 1995-2011, The Jerusalem Post 02/22/12)
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