Haredim take part in a protest in Mea She’arim against the municipality opening a nearby road on Shabbat..
(photo credit: REUTERS/BAZ RATNER)
A government vote scheduled for Sunday on legislation that seeks to create a compromise between religious and secular demands over the Sabbath was postponed by a month due to opposition from the haredi political parties United Torah Judaism and Shas.
The bill, if enacted would regulate commercial activity on Shabbat while, at the same time, reducing the hours of the work week and formally permit the operation of leisure and recreational institutions on the Sabbath.
Shabbat in the public realm has long been an issue of fierce cultural conflict between religious Israelis and politicians who seek to preserve the character of Shabbat in the Jewish state as a holy day of rest and more secular and even religiously traditional citizens who seek to enjoy their day of rest with activities such as attending cultural or recreational events, traveling and dining.
The bill was written by MKs Rachel Azaria (Kulanu), Elazar Stern (Yesh Atid), Manuel Trajtenberg (Zionist Union) and Miki Zohar (Likud) as a form of grand bargain whereby the value of Shabbat is formally recognized and a commitment made to restrict commercial activity, while at the same time allowing traditional and nonreligious Israelis greater opportunity to enjoy Shabbat in accordance their lifestyles.
However, it is facing strident opposition from the haredi political parties and elements of Bayit Yehudi and will be difficult to advance in the current government.
The authors hope, however, that it can also serve as a bargaining tool against the efforts of the haredi parties to enact even stricter regulations on what is open and what may be done on Shabbat in the public realm.
The bill formally declares that Shabbat is the official day of rest of the state and that it is the right of every Jew not to work on Shabbat and the right of every non-Jew not to work on their day of rest. It also states that an employee cannot be discriminated against for not working on Shabbat.
The legislation would prohibit state institutions and agencies from operating on Shabbat apart from those necessary for defense, health and other critical operations as defined in existing laws.
It also would prohibit trade and industry on Shabbat and seek to enforce such laws, as opposed to the current situation where enforcement is lax and such operations are carried out to a certain extent.
Critically, the legislation seeks to reduce the maximum number of hours allowable in a working week from 45 to 39 with the aim of giving Israelis a greater opportunity during the rest of the week to conduct shopping and other requirements in order to justify the stricter reduction in commercial activity on Shabbat.
Alongside these restrictions would be a series of measures establishing in law the right to enjoy cultural and recreational activities, the opening of restaurants and other food establishments, as well as limited public transportation within cities and neighborhoods that desire it, as well as some level of intercity public transportation.
This is one the most controversial parts of the bill because, although recreational and leisure institutions such as cinemas, museums, bars and restaurants have always been allowed to open on Shabbat through the so-called “status quo” understandings, this practice has never been formalized in law. The notion of public transportation on Shabbat is also anathema to the religious parties.
The law would give local municipal authorities the power to permit grocery stores to open in towns and cities, the proximate cause of the current political fight over Shabbat owing to a High Court of Justice ruling last month that a new Tel Aviv bylaw permitting a certain number of grocery stores to open on Shabbat must be implemented.
The decision raised the ire of the haredi parties and has led them to introduce their own legislation that would circumvent and reverse the High Court ruling.
“The goal of this law is to anchor in legislation the status of Shabbat as a day of rest in the State of Israel, and thereby strengthen Shabbat as a unifying factor in Israeli society,” the explanation to the legislation reads.
At the same time “the bill seeks to allow ‘enjoyment of Shabbat’ to all Israelis in accordance with their world view and lifestyle,” it says.