Health Minister Ya'acov Litzman at the Knesset plenum discussing goverment allowances for the disabled, September 18, 2017..
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Health Minister Yaakov Litzman told Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that he will resign from the cabinet on Sunday if work is done by Jews on Saturday on Israel Railway trains.
Railway repairs are set to take place on Saturday, so Litzman took the step Friday under the direction of the grand rabbi of the Gur Hassidic group, of which he is a member.
The Health Minister was the first cabinet member from United Torah Judaism, but his post gave him collective responsibility for all government decisions, including those to violate the Sabbath, leading to his resignation over the train repairs.
However, the United Torah Judaism bloc, which is made up of several Haredi groups, and Shas, the other Haredi party in the government, plan to remain in the coalition at this point. Sources in Litzman’s office declined to say what might happen after Litzman formally steps down on Sunday, and what the likelihood of UTJ quitting the government was.
A source in the party told The Jerusalem Post
they found it hard to believe that Litzman could simply resign, not secure an agreement to reduce maintenance work on Shabbat, and allow business as usual to continue within the coalition.
The source said that if no such agreement is secured, Litzman could quite possibly instruct Agudat Yisrael’s MKs to cease voting with the government on legislation.
He may even insist on Meir Porush resigning as deputy education minister, which would cause upheaval within United Torah Judaism, since Porush would then seek to return to the Knesset and force out MK Yaakov Asher, who belongs to the Degel Hatorah party, the non-hassidic constituent party of UTJ.
Israel Railways has said that not working on Saturday would require a total shutdown of train service on a weekday, leaving thousands unable to commute to work. Unlike last week, when a similar crisis was averted by using non-Jewish workers, this weekend more than 100 engineers and technicians who are Jewish are essential, the rail company explained.
Netanyahu negotiated with Litzman and senior UTJ MK Moshe Gafni on Wednesday and Thursday to find a compromise with Israel Railways, as did Labor Minister Haim Katz, who is responsible for authorizing work on Saturdays.
Katz has also liaised with Israel Railway officials in order to drastically reduce the amount of maintenance that must be done for safety purpose this Shabbat.
Israel Railways is being asked to formulate plans to significantly reduce the amount of maintenance conducted on Shabbat in the future according to the report.
The Grand Rabbi of the Gur Hassidic community, Rabbi Yaakov Aryeh Alter, is known for his militancy on the issue of Shabbat.
When Litzman was forced to take on the role of full Health Minister, instead of just deputy minister, in August 2015, Alter reportedly expressed concern that his representative in Knesset would be a full member of a government that publicly desecrates the Sabbath, but was eventually persuaded that UTJ would prevent such Sabbath desecration.
It remains unclear what the grand rabbi will decide if Litzman steps down as a full minister, but UTJ is still unable to impose its will on the government on this matter.Gil Hoffman contributed to this report.