FRUSTRATED PASSENGERS fill platforms 5 and 6 at the Savidor central train station in Tel Aviv. .
(photo credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI)
The seemingly interminable Shabbat wars were ignited once again Thursday afternoon, when the leaders of the ultra-Orthodox parties United Torah Judaism and Shas said they “fiercely oppose” planned construction work this Friday night on the railway network.
Traffic came to a gridlock last Sunday in central Israel, after the Haifa-Tel Aviv railway line was shut for maintenance that was originally scheduled for Shabbat. The construction was rescheduled due to the severe objections of the haredi parties to such work being conducted on the Sabbath.
On Thursday afternoon, UTJ and Shas again protested scheduled construction for this Shabbat, saying it would be possible to do the work during the week without endangering lives, a situation which the haredi parties would agree justifies construction on the Sabbath. The haredi leaders were apparently angered by the fact that they were not informed of the scheduled construction, and found out after seeing a notification issued by the police Thursday afternoon informing the press and public of traffic closures for Friday night.
“The construction on Shabbat is very severe, and we protest this attack on the honor of the Shabbat,” said Health Minister and UTJ chairman Ya’acov Litzman, Interior Minister and Shas chairman Arye Deri, and senior UTJ MK Moshe Gafni.
The leaders conceded that since the Shabbat crisis began several weeks ago, “construction has been reduced significantly and a large portion of the workers are not Jewish,” another mitigating factor for state construction work on the sabbath.
They said that they strongly object to the behavior of the police, “which is acting unprofessionally when it insists that the work be done on the Sabbath eve when it could be done during the week.”
Litzman, Deri and Gafni said they are demanding an immediate meeting with the police commissioner “to underline the gravity of the matter.”
The police said in response that it had been asked for its opinion by the Transportation Ministry regarding conducting construction work at the Hashalom Train Station in Tel Aviv during the week, and closing the interchange adjacent to the station on the Ayalon Highway, which would be necessary for the work.
The police said that the opinion given had been that closing the Ayalon interchange during the week “would lead to significant traffic paralysis in metropolitan Tel Aviv, which in many common situations could seriously endanger life for many citizens.”
The statement added that the police had not made any decision to conduct the construction work, and that authority over such decisions lay with other government departments.
The police insisted that its written opinion, produced by its legal adviser and its traffic department, had been professionally drawn up.
Earlier on Thursday, Deri spoke in a more conciliatory tone when he said on Reshet Bet radio that not everyone in the Jewish state views Shabbat and its importance as he does, and acknowledged that various work on Shabbat had been approved by the Economy Ministry when he was minister.
Last week, Deri told the haredi radio station Radio Kol Hai that the haredi parties “understand we don’t live in a halachic state, we haven’t yet got to Messianic times, and we haven’t reached that ideal situation when everyone in the Jewish people understands the essence of Shabbat.”
During the interview, he also said that he would not rule out joining a government headed by Yesh Atid chairman and haredi bête noire Yair Lapid.
Deri said that the haredi parties would never recommend to the president that Lapid be given the first chance to form a coalition after elections, and would recommend Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu again as they did in the last elections.
“If Lapid would have 61 mandates without Shas and the haredi parties, and then Lapid came to us and offered coalition principles we could live with and he asked us to join the coalition, then we might do so,” said Deri.
His comments come following extremely favorable polling figures for Yesh Atid.
A Channel 1 poll by the Geocartography Institute published last week put Yesh Atid at 27 seats and Likud at 23, while a Channel 2 poll conducted by Midgam and published on September 6 gave Yesh Atid 24 seats and the Likud 22.