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A legislative initiative presented to the Knesset Wednesday to protect the Shabbat as a national day of rest lacked the support of religious parties.
The bill, called the Culture and Recreation Day Law, would crack down on commercial activity on Shabbat, while permitting more cultural and recreational activities and public transportation.
The bill was presented at a Knesset press conference attended by Natan Sharansky and Michael Eitan (Likud) Aryeh Eldad (National Union) Dov Chanin (Hadash) and Michael Melchior (Meimad) presented the bill during a press conference.
"More and more people are forced to work seven days a week 365 days a year," said Sharansky. "We want to strike a unifying compromise between secular and religious that would allow the Shabbat to retain its special character as a day of rest. At the same time we want to allow non religious limited access to transportation and places of entertainment."
Meir Porush of United Torah Judaism, attacked the initiative.
"The Shabbat is a holy day with obligations and commandments," said Porush. "Not just a day with cultural, socioeconomic and national-historical meaning."
"The Shabbat is God's everlasting covenant with the Jewish people. The bill distorts both the content and the soul of the Jewish day of rest."
A Shas spokesman said that his party was likely to oppose the initiative since it would encourage more desecration of the Shabbat.
"We see it as a blow to the status quo," said the spokesman.
MK Zevulun Orlev of the National Union - National Religious Party, said in response that it was too early to push the initiative.
"The basic idea is positive," said Orlev. "But politicians need the wide support of rabbis if they want the initiative to be more than just some media spin that gets their names in the paper."
Orlev said that a lot of dialoging and groundwork was needed before attempting to move ahead with legislation.
In response to Porush's attack, MK Melchior said, "because people like him the state of Israel will completely lose the Shabbat as a national day of rest."
According to data released in 2002 by the Labor and Social Affairs Ministry in 2002 18 percent of the workforce, or 324,000 Israelis work on Shabbat. Some 16% of those who work on Shabbat, or 60,000, work seven days a week. The average working week for those who work on Shabbat is 50 hours compared to 39 for those who do not.
The prohibition against working on Shabbat is anchored in two laws. The Work and Rest Hours Law states that Shabbat will be a day of rest for the Jewish worker.
In addition, a municipality directive gives local government leeway to open places of business on Shabbat.
However, many malls located outside city centers such as the Shefa'im mall on Kibbutz Shefa'im operate on Shabbat.
According Labor Ministry data, total sales on Shabbat reached an estimated NIS 5.2 billion in 2002, twice the amount in 2001.