Tel Aviv bus 521.
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Tel Aviv Chief Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau said he is filled with a deep feeling of disappointment by a Tel Aviv-Jaffa city council decision to seek permission from the Transportation Ministry to operate buses on Shabbat. He asked Tel Aviv-Jaffa Mayor Ron Huldai to reverse the decision.
"This decision harms the history of Tel Aviv, which was founded 103 years ago as the first Hebrew city," Lau wrote in a statement. In asking Huldai to reverse the council's decision, Lau said he was writing in the name of the thousands of people who keep Shabbat who supported his election."
The Tel Aviv Municipal Council approved a resolution Monday night to ask the Transportation Ministry for permission to operate public transport systems on Shabbat.
Proposed by Meretz Councilwoman Tamar Zandberg, in conjunction with the secularist Be Free Israel organization, the motion passed 13-7, and was also supported by Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai.
“Whoever doesn’t want to get on a bus on Shabbat doesn’t have to,” the mayor said after the vote.
According to the proposal, the municipality will request permission from the commissioner for public transport of to operate public transit on Shabbat. The commissioner is authorized by law to approve such requests in cases where a municipality considers such services to be essential, as well as in situations where public transport serves a non-Jewish population, or for the purposes of transport to a hospital.
The Transportation Ministry, however, already said Tuesday that it would reject the request, which it says goes against the status quo.
Meretz chairwoman Zehava Gal-On subsequently made an appeal to Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein on Tuesday over Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz's refusal to consider the request, saying that his decision-making process would not stand if challenged in the High Court of Justice.
"The secular majority in Tel Aviv is interested in the operation of public transportation on Shabbat, as was seen in a discussion and vote held by the city council," Gal-On wrote to Weinstein. "Enacting the operation of public transportation on Shabbat would advance principles of social justice and improve the environment and freedom of religion."
Before making a decision, she added, the transportation minister "must weigh the Shabbat transportation needs and desires of people who do not have private vehicles."
Binyamin Babayouf, a Tel Aviv city councilman for Shas, told The Jerusalem Post
that he and his party would fight against any effort to run public transport in the city on Shabbat and festivals.
“The [ancient] Greeks, Stalin and Communist Russia and many others have all tried to prevent Jews from observing Shabbat, but none of them succeeded and they won’t succeed here in Tel Aviv, either.
Babayouf denied that the lack of public transportation on Shabbat constituted religious coercion and said that no one was trying to force people to be religiously observant.Jeremy Sharon contributed to this report.