(photo credit: WIKIMEDIA)
Rabbi Gilad Kariv, the head of Israel’s Reform Movement, called on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday to maintain the status quo with regard to work on the train system on Shabbat.
The weekend’s crisis over train work that was canceled at the last minute, was “a continuation of the government’s surrender to demands made by the haredi parties,” Kariv told The Jerusalem Post.
He said the focus had been mistakenly put on the prime minister’s relationship with Transportation Minister Israel Katz – whom the former blamed for the debacle – rather than on the efforts of the haredi parties “to change the status quo.”
“We have to say clearly that infrastructure work on the train is allowed on Shabbat,” Kariv stressed, clarifying that it has nothing to do with pikuah nefesh
, the term in Jewish law for life-saving acts which permit violating what would normally be prohibited on the Sabbath.
“The Israeli law says that when there are essential needs for the economy and the public, work on Shabbat is permitted. It is permitted to employ 300 workers for the train works,” he said, noting that this is a small number in proportion to the thousands who work for Israel Railways. “Shabbat is important to us all, but we can’t act like this is a halachic state.”
“The prime minister is not drawing redlines for the haredi parties and we know from the past that every time we don’t draw these redlines, their demands grow,” Kariv said, adding that the strong stance Netanyahu is taking toward Katz should instead be aimed at the ultra-Orthodox leaders. “The fact that this isn’t happening only invites more pressures from those parties.”
“What’s the difference between train works on Shabbat and Ben-Gurion Airport and entertainment sites or factories being open on Shabbat?” he asked, opining that there is a lot of hypocrisy and little concern for Shabbat. He highlighted that Netanyahu’s own office desecrated Shabbat when it put out a statement in response to the crisis.
The dispute over Shabbat work, for the second weekend in a row, erupted after the government formed a committee to assess which transportation projects could be completed on the Sabbath and permitted none. “It’s unrealistic to believe the haredi parties may agree to some projects, they won’t agree to any,” Kariv told the Post
The committee includes Prime Minister’s Office director-general Eli Groner, Transportation Ministry director-general Keren Turner, Economy Ministry director- general Amit Lang, and representatives of Education Minister Naftali Bennett, Shas, United Torah Judaism and the Chief Rabbinate.
Maverick haredi rabbi Haim Amsalem also had some harsh words for the haredi parties, accusing them of causing a much bigger desecration of Shabbat than the train work would have been. “Ultimately, all those who cried out for the honor of Shabbat caused a much larger desecration of Shabbat,” he stated. Amsalem is a former Shas MK, now a member of Bayit Yehudi after having been kicked out of the former party and unsuccessfully forming his own party. He seeks to constitute a moderate voice in Bayit Yehudi, and presented a solution to the train crisis: that non-Jews carry out any necessary work on Shabbat. “We must do what Jewish law says and allows, in a country where 20 percent of its residents are not Jewish... We are all familiar with the concept ‘Shabbat goy.’” He said that this is the appropriate solution for a Jewish, democratic and modern state.
Rabbi David Stav, founder and chairman of the Tzohar rabbinical organization, expressed understanding of both sides of the rift: “It’s impossible not to understand those asking what the difference is between the train and every other desecration of Shabbat in Israel. How is Israel Railways any different to the electricity or water company, and others that don’t rest on the day of rest?”
Stav said his heart “ached” at the outburst of hostility against Shabbat by those who observe it. “My favorite day of the week has in recent days become the most hated day.” He expressed understanding of both sides of the rift, saying that those who enjoy keeping Shabbat wish for it to be observed throughout the country. “Once a week, a day of rest for the body and the soul – I wish for everybody to benefit from it.”
To solve the problem, he recommended a public, non-political discussion on the matter, between the various sectors of society.
Meanwhile, Director of the Chief Rabbinate Moshe Dagan emphasized that Israel Railways is a state body, in his eyes, making its desecration of Shabbat graver than that of a private company. “It wasn’t clear that it was essential for this work to be carried out on Shabbat,” he said, having been present at Thursday evening’s committee meeting on Shabbat work.
“Observing Shabbat is a very important value and when we talk about a government body desecrating it, it’s very problematic. It sends out a message to the whole world,” he told the Post. “When you talk about a private individual, it’s their right to decide whether or not they keep Shabbat, but when you talk about the Jewish state, it’s completely different.” He agreed that it would have been preferable had the decision been made earlier so as not to throw so much of the public into disarray, but said the timing had not been in his hands.