Haredi parties threaten to block budget over Shabbat desecration

"This sort of intolerance will drive non-haredi people out of Jerusalem."

January 15, 2017 20:18
3 minute read.
Aryeh Deri



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Shas chairman and Interior Minister Arye Deri has summoned Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat to a meeting later this week against a background of heightened tensions in the city over concerns by the religious parties that increasing numbers of projects and initiatives funded by City Hall are taking place on Shabbat.

On Sunday, Deri said he would summon Barkat to a meeting along with the heads of the other haredi (ultra-Orthodox) parties in Knesset, Health Minister and chairman of Agudat Yisrael Ya’acov Litzman along with chairman of Degel Hatorah Moshe Gafni.

The meeting is according to Deri “to clarify to him the severity of the Shabbat issue, and the conditions of the haredi parties and their demands to halt Sabbath desecration in the city.” Representatives of the haredi parties in the Jerusalem Municipal Council will also be present.

On Saturday night, Deri convened a meeting with the Committee of Rabbis for Shabbat in Jerusalem in the Interior Ministry, where he threatened that Shas both not vote for the municipal budget and would even quit the municipal coalition if their demands regarding municipal funding for events on Shabbat are not met.

“At the moment, Barkat is the mayor for everyone, and everyone is in the coalition,” began Deri.

“But if the haredim will not be in the coalition there will be no coalition,” saying he was willing to instruct Shas Municipal Council members to go “to the end” on this issue.

The message to Barkat, said Deri, was clear; “If you don’t go with us on this issue, there will be no budget... The honor of Shabbat is more important than anything else.”

Barkat’s office did not respond to a request for comment as to whether he would attend the meeting.

Speaking to The Jerusalem Post, Jerusalem Municipal Council member for United Torah Judaism Yitzhak Pindrus alleged that, in particular, the Yeru-Shalem pluralist and cultural organization, together with Community Administrations in the Beit Hakerem and Kiryat Yovel neighborhoods, were responsible for an increase in cultural and leisure events on Shabbat.

Pindrus pointed to movie screenings which start on Friday afternoon and run into Shabbat as recent examples of events funded by the Municipal Council that violate the Sabbath. “I am not prepared to allow municipal budgets to be given to events that desecrate Shabbat,” he said.

In response to concerns of some that reducing activities on Shabbat for non-religious people in Jerusalem could aggravate secular flight from the city, Pindrus said he did not believe the fate of Jerusalem would be harmed “by not showing some movie or other.”

“Jerusalem has its unique holiness, it is the eternal capital of the Jewish people, and will continue to succeed and prosper regardless of what leisure activities are available on Shabbat,” he said.

Another of the driving forces behind recent objections to municipally-funded events on Shabbat has been Jerusalem Municipal Council Member Aryeh King and his One Jerusalem party.

Speaking on the haredi radio station Kol Hai on Sunday, King alleged that in recent years events violating the Sabbath, funded by the town hall, have increased in the capital, and there has been a decrease in the enforcement of the law prohibiting commercial activity on Shabbat.

According to sources within the municipality, King’s vociferous campaign against municipality-funded events on Shabbat has drawn the attention of the haredi online media, which in turn has forced the haredi political leadership at the municipal and now the national level to publicly attack the municipal coalition over the Shabbat issue.

Rabbi Aharon Leibowitz, a Municipal Council member for the Yerushalmim Party, said such campaigns against leisure activities on Shabbat would lead to an exodus of non-haredim from the city.

“By ‘fighting for Shabbat’ the objecting Municipal Council members only hurt Shabbat,” Leibowitz said. “Is coercing Shabbat the way to make Jews care for Shabbat? This sort of intolerance will drive non-haredi people out of Jerusalem.”

“‘It’s ways are the ways of pleasantness,’” Leibowitz said, quoting the Bible about the path of Torah. “This is not the way.”

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