Tel Aviv bus 521.
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Proponents of allowing public transportation on Shabbat are framing the issue as good public policy, and not as a clash between religious and secular.
Allowing buses to operate on Saturdays would reduce energy use and air pollution while providing an important service to the 40 percent of Tel Aviv residents who don’t own a car, city council member Tamar Zandberg (Meretz) said on Tuesday, at a Knesset Economic Committee hearing on public transportation on Shabbat.
“The central issue isn’t religion versus the status quo,” she said. “The question is whether these people will be stuck in their houses.”
The council approved a resolution
last week to ask the Transportation Ministry for permission to operate public transport on Shabbat. The ministry indicated it would deny the request.
Tel Aviv residents without cars must rely on either shared “sherut” taxis running along three established bus lines or take private cabs to travel long distances on Shabbat.
The state already authorizes buses servicing hospitals on Shabbat, Zandberg said. Given that a majority of Tel Aviv residents, not to mention the 10% who are not Jewish, support public transport on Shabbat, the government should oblige, she said.
Meretz MK Nitzan Horowitz went so far as to argue that religious Jews have an interest in allowing public transportation to operate on Shabbat.
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Adding buses would reduce overall traffic on the holy day, benefiting religious people concerned about maintaining a Shabbat atmosphere.
“From your point of view, you should be interested in having public transportation on Shabbat,” he told MK Uri Orbach (Habayit Hayehudi), “because it reduces traffic.”
Orbach scoffed, saying policies that ignore the needs of religious Jews pushed them out of the city and encouraged ghettoization. “I now understand why Tel Aviv is such a secular city,” he said. To be truly inclusive, Tel Aviv “should cut down the public transport on Shabbat.”
Arguments about good public policy could not hide the underlying culture war between religious and secular.
“I am not forcing you to go on the public transport, but you can’t force me to stay at home,” Horowitz said.
Yet committee chairman Carmel Shama-Hacohen (Likud) did his best to keep the idea of shared national interest in everyone’s focus, closing the meeting with a reminder that “Shabbat belongs not just to the religious, not just to the secular, but to the entire Jewish nation.”
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