Tel Aviv bus 521.
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai criticized the lack of public transport on Shabbat in
a post on his Facebook page on Tuesday.
Israel is “the only country in
the world in which public transport does not operate for a quarter of the year
because of Shabbat and festivals,” Huldai said, highlighting a recent campaign
by the Be Free Israel secularist organization that aims to change this state of
He added that people without private vehicles face difficulties
visiting family and friends or pursuing leisure activities, and argued that the
lack of transport on Shabbat “harms the development of the country” as well as
efforts to reduce pollution.
Binyamin Babayouf, a Tel Aviv city
councilman for Shas, said that he and his party would fight and protest against
any effort to run public transport in the city on Shabbat and
“The mayor can say what he likes, but he is not the one who
will decide,” Babayouf told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday. “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 the Sabbath constituted religious coercion and said that no
one was trying to force people to be religiously observant.
the Jewish people have guarded Shabbat, Shabbat has guarded the Jewish people,”
he nevertheless said. “It is one of the greatest things that has distinguished
us from other peoples. If we open government offices and run public transport,
what will be the difference between a Jew living here and a Jew living in the
US, Europe or Uganda? What did we come here for?” he asked.
Gitzin, director of Be Free Israel, said it is unreasonable for people to be
without public transport on weekends and to be “stuck at home on
He added that Babayouf was correct in ascribing great
importance to Shabbat but that observing it should not have to be “in accordance
with an ultra-Orthodox Shabbat.”
“I want to have Shabbat the way I want.
If I want to visit my family or go to the beach then I should be able to.
Different people have different ways of resting on the day of rest, but when you
insist on a ‘halachic Shabbat’ people become indifferent to it,” Gitzin
A spokesman for Tel Aviv Chief Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau said that the
rabbi prefers to deal with the issue directly with the mayor instead of creating
a public argument.
In a recent study examining the level of Jewish
religiosity in Israel conducted by the Israel Democracy Institute and the Avi
Chai Foundation, 59 percent of respondents said they were in favor of public
transportation on Shabbat and 68% said that weekday activities, such as going to
cinemas, cafes and restaurants, should be available on the Sabbath as
On Monday, city councilwoman Tamar Zandberg will present a proposal
to the city council to introduce public transportation to Tel Aviv on Shabbat,
although Gitzin said that even if approved by the council, it could be overruled
by the Transportation Ministry.
There is no legislation banning the
operation of public transportation on Shabbat, but every bus line needs approval
from the ministry, including for its hours of operation. As part of the status
quo agreement on matters of religion and state, bus lines are generally
prevented from operating on the Sabbath and festivals, except in the greater
Haifa area, as buses operated there before the foundation of the state.