(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
United Torah Judaism and Shas scored a victory on Tuesday when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu agreed to the formation of a committee that will include representatives of those parties, to determine which government work can be done on Shabbat.
The new committee will meet soon to set guidelines on what constitutes pikuach nefesh, the term in Jewish law for life-saving acts which permit violating what would normally be prohibited on the Sabbath.
In a meeting at his Jerusalem office, Netanyahu promised Ya’acov Litzman and Moshe Gafni of UTJ, and Arye Deri of Shas, that he would honor previous agreements requiring him to ensure that his government does not violate Shabbat.
“Keeping the Sabbath is very important to me,” Netanyahu told the UTJ and Shas leaders. “It is our national day of rest, and I don’t want it said of me that I harm it.”
Shas and UTJ did not ask Netanyahu to fire Transportation Minister Israel Katz, though they complained that he deceived them about work being done on Shabbat.
They did, however, ask him to fire Israel Railways CEO Boaz Tzafrir, whose last day of work was already set for Wednesday.
The committee will include PMO director-general Eli Groner, Transportation Ministry director-general Keren Turner, Economy Ministry director-general Amit Lang, and representatives of Education Minister Naftali Bennett, Shas, UTJ and the Chief Rabbinate.
In the past, the police made recommendations to government ministries and bodies such as Israel Railways on which work was life-saving.
“Apparently, what constitutes pikuach nefesh wasn’t so set before, so things that were done by people who had an interest in doing them,” Shas faction secretary Asher Medina said. “We are not calling this a win, but we are pleased that the status quo on matters of religion and state will now be taken more into account.”
Following the agreement reached between Netanyahu, Shas and UTJ, Gesher Executive Director Ilan Geal-Dor called for taking discussions about Shabbat out of the hands of politicians and giving it to Israeli society.
“Shabbat should be what unites and connects people in the State of Israel,” Geal- Dor said. “The involvement of politicians on the issue brings the discourse to the wrong place, and distances the Shabbat from the people.
The nation could love Shabbat if it is not made political.”
Hiddush director Rabbi Uri Regev slammed the deal, and accused Netanyahu of letting the haredim (ultra-Orthodox) have their way at the expense of the general public. Regev said it was especially wrong to allow representatives of the Chief Rabbinate to participate in a committee that decides which construction projects should be advanced.
“We once again saw the regular ritual of the haredim flexing their muscles and the prime minister giving in to them,” Hiddush said in a statement. “It is unacceptable that the government is surrendering to pressure and permitting the entire nation to become clogged.”
Jeremy Sharon contributed to this report