Ultra-Orthodox minister threatens to quit over Shabbat railway construction

A compromise was found whereby only non-Jewish workers would carry out the maintenance work.

November 20, 2017 05:38
3 minute read.
Ultra-Orthodox minister threatens to quit over Shabbat railway construction

Haredi members of the Knesset are upset over railway maintenance work being performed on Shabbat. (photo credit: ISRAEL RAILWAYS)


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Tensions over railway network maintenance work taking place on Shabbat continue to plague the coalition, with Health Minister Ya’acov Litzman making renewed threats to quit if such work does not stop.

On Friday, Litzman threatened to resign if construction work, which started on Wednesday and was scheduled to continue until Sunday, went ahead on Shabbat on the Beersheba-to-Dimona railway line.

A compromise was found whereby only non-Jewish workers would carry out the maintenance work, and Litzman was therefore able to avoid resigning.

But it subsequently became clear that maintenance work had been carried out in Tel Aviv and other areas by Jewish workers.

Labor and Welfare Minister Haim Katz, who has the authority to approve construction work for government agencies on Shabbat, said bluntly on Sunday morning that such work would continue.
Tel Aviv light rail impacts status quo. (Yocheved Laufer)

“There’s no other option, work on the railways will continue on Shabbat. If the state wants a railway [system]... what can you do? They need to work on railway maintenance on Shabbat,” Katz said on Radio Moreshet.

He added that there was also “no option” but for Jewish workers to work on Shabbat.

“I understand that this upsets the Haredi parties but I am not willing to take safety risks because of this.”

Speaking on Army Radio, Litzman said in response that Katz and the government “will need to find another Health Minister,” adding: “There won’t be Shabbat desecration in the State of Israel with me.”

Increased construction and maintenance on transport networks and infrastructure in recent months has led to frequent crises with the Haredi parties when such work is carried out over Shabbat.

Despite numerous threats from United Torah Judaism and Shas, the work has continued and the Haredi parties have not brought down the coalition.

Construction work is not the only matter to have aroused the ire of the Haredi parties regarding the Sabbath. Last week, Senior UTJ MK Moshe Gafni walked out of the Knesset plenum while voting was taking place on legislation because his bill to ban grocery stores from opening on Shabbat had not been advanced.

It remains to be seen whether or not he will take further punitive action against the coalition this week in light of the fact that his bill was not put on the agenda of the Ministerial Committee for Legislation on Sunday.

A similar bill proposed by Shas chairman and Interior Minister Arye Deri was debated, although a vote on it was postponed until next week.

Separately, Gafni and Shas MK Yoav Ben- Tzur sought on Sunday to advance legislation in the Knesset that would shore up the Chief Rabbinate’s monopoly over kashrut and circumvent a recent High Court of Justice ruling on the issue.

The court allowed restaurants and food businesses without supervision from the rabbinate to state what kashrut standards they follow, although prohibited them from stating in writing that they are kosher.

This ruling gave legal room for Hashgacha Pratit, an independent Orthodox kashrut authority to continue providing kashrut supervision, and paved the way for other such authorities to also enter the kashrut market.

The ruling has been strongly attacked by the Haredi parties and the Chief Rabbinate, and the legislation proposed by Gafni and Ben-Tzur would nullify it.

Gafni’s bill passed a preliminary hearing back in 2015 on condition that any further advance would require approval from the Ministerial Committee for Legislation.

Such approval has yet to happen, and MK Rachel Azaria of the Kulanu party, who is one of the founders of Hashgacha Pratit, demanded that the committee hearing be stopped until the ministerial committee holds a hearing on the legislation.

Committee chairman MK David Amsalem duly halted the hearing, and suggested that he, Gafni and Azaria meet to discuss the issue before advancing the law further.

Azaria insisted, however, that there was no reason to advance the law at all, saying that she would continue to work towards increased competition in the field of kashrut supervision.

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