(photo credit: REUTERS)
Mimicking their haredi (ultra-Orthodox) counterparts, senior national-religious rabbis have taken up arms in defense of Shabbat and written to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu asking him to halt public desecration of the day.
In recent months, leading haredi rabbis and politicians have made increasingly strident denunciations against construction and maintenance works on Shabbat, as well as other infractions of Shabbat laws in public.
Voices on the conservative wing of the national-religious sector have been agitating for a similar response from its rabbis for some time now, and Sunday’s statement appears to be a reaction that pressure.
Rabbis Haim Druckman, Yaakov Ariel, Dov Lior, Shmuel Eliyahu, Ayreh Stern and Micha Halevi all appended their name to the letter, which extolled the values of Shabbat and its powers of protection over the Jewish people. They noted that the status quo on Shabbat observance in the public realm has precluded desecration of the day by state institutions since the founding of the country.
The rabbis drew particular attention to increased numbers of businesses opening on Shabbat, such as grocery stores in Tel Aviv; efforts to increase public transport on the Sabbath; and most recently an indication by the prime minister that he will issue a formal, blanket permit allowing Israel’s professional football leagues to hold matches on Shabbat, owing petition by a religious NGO to the High Court of Justice on behalf of Shabbat-observing athletes.
“We support you in preserving the Jewish identity of the State of Israel and hereby call on you, the honorable prime minister, and to ministers and MKs, public figures and decision makers: Do not abet the desecration of Shabbat!” wrote the rabbis.
The apparent motivation for the national-religious rabbis’ statement is the serious manner in which the haredi leadership has been addressing the issue.
On Thursday night, the three Councils of Torah Sages of Degel Hatorah, Agudat Yisrael (which together comprise the political union of United Torah Judaism) and Shas convened to discuss the issue.
The rabbis of the councils issued a statement following their meeting calling on the haredi MKs and ministers to do everything in their power to prevent public desecration of Shabbat by state institutions, whether by legislation or administrative decisions at the national or municipal level.
“We have heard with pain on broken hearts the harsh situation regarding construction work on the roads and railways that is done on Shabbat, and about the opening of businesses and regional breaches in the walls of the Shabbat,” the rabbis said in their joint statement.
The government has been attentive to the increasing haredi disquiet and threats over Shabbat. On Wednesday, Labor and Welfare Minister Haim Katz – who is responsible for issuing work permits for Sabbath construction – told haredi MKs that construction work over the High Holy Days and Shabbat would be halted.