Opposition leader Isaac Herzog (Labor) called on Interior Minister Gidon Sa'ar on Monday to respect the decision of Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai and the city's municipal council and allow local grocery stores to open on Shabbat.
Herzog was speaking during a hearing of the Caucus for Jewish Renewal and the Caucus for the Nation, Religion, and State with MKs, rabbis, and other spiritual leaders to discuss how Shabbat can be observed in a way that is conducive to all sectors of society.
The debate comes against the background of increased tension over the issue of Sabbath observance this week.
On Sunday Sa’ar overruled the Tel Aviv Municipality’s decision to allow local grocery stores to open on Shabbat, while the government decided to block a bill allowing the operation of public transport on Shabbat.
“Mayor Ron Huldai and the municipal council drew up a proposal that was in keeping with the unique character of Tel Aviv and the interior minister should allow them to implement it,” Herzog said.
“Bnei Brak is closed on Shabbat, Tel Aviv is not, and Jerusalem is somewhere in between. Every city has its own Shabbat that fits its character and the character of its residents and this the beautiful thing about Israel’s multiculturalism,” he continued. “We have to preserve this and desist from wars surrounding [the issue of] Shabbat.”
Minister for Pensioner Affairs and Bayit Yehudi MK Uri Orbach said, however, that a war must be waged for the sake of Shabbat against market forces, which he said could exploit workers, and that both religious and secular people could join forces to defend social concerns.
MK Elazar Stern (Hatnua), who along with Herzog and MK Ruth Calderon (Yesh Atid), initiated Monday’s debate, addressed the wider issue the conflicts between religion and state that have been raised during the current Knesset session, and in particular Sunday’s decision by the High Court of Justice that overruled a rabbinical court’s ruling imposing circumcision against the will of a baby’s mother.
“If we as legislators continue to leave large voids between the law and reality with regard to the Jewish and democratic facets of the State of Israel, then it is possible that the Supreme Court will replace the Knesset and will be the body that determines the Jewish character of the State,” Stern warned. “In such circumstances, there is a danger that our Jewish identity will remain in the book of decisions of the Supreme Court and when we’ll want to know what to do we won’t go to our Jewish sources but rather to the court’s decisions to find out how the State of Israel is Jewish and democratic.”
Stern also emphasized that he himself lives an Orthodox lifestyle, but said that it would be “better for a Jew to live an alternative Jewish lifestyle, than not to have any kind of Jewish life at all.”
While addressing the hearing, Calderon noted that the cost to the public purse of religious services in 2012 was NIS 3.7 billion, but that this money is not used for non-Orthodox projects or programs. He said that some of this money should be directed to projects for the “non-halachic community as well.”
“The government and the local authorities do not partner in budgeting for communal efforts to create a meaningful Shabbat, but non-Orthodox Jews are not transparent,” Calderon said.
She also said that the current debate surrounding the Sabbath should not focus on what is forbidden, but instead should seek to “design Shabbat according to the needs of the residents of different towns and cities and to show the entire world what Jewish culture is about and what the day of rest is about.”
During the hearing, Rabbi Ronen Neuwirth, director of the Beit Hillel rabbinical association, presented his organization’s “Israeli Shabbat” initiative, which seeks to position Shabbat as a central societal facet and to bring religious and secular Israelis together in making the day “a time for spirituality, family, and community.”
“We have an historic opportunity to bring about a real change in Israeli society, to take Shabbat – which has until now been a bone of contention – and turn it into the cornerstone of ‘new Israeliness,’ ” Neuwirth said.
During the hearing, the Reform Movement in Israel presented a document outlining its recommendations for dealing with the need for a day of rest and spiritual input, as well for people who need and want to engage in commercial activities.
Meanwhile, celebrated actress Gila Almagor caused a stir Monday by referring to a law that would require Tel Aviv businesses to close on the Sabbath as “a cancer” while proclaiming, “Iran is here.”
“Iran is already here, because it’s like a cancer – cell after cell,” Almagor told Army Radio. “This appears to be a very disheartening, populist decision. Tel Aviv is special.
It’s a place where people of all faiths and sectors live side by side.
“Let Tel Aviv breathe at its own pace,” she said. “Let the student who didn’t have time to do shopping in the middle of the week put on his flip-flops and walk to the supermarket. This isn’t a matter of pursuing profits.
Live and let live – don’t take over our lives.”