Shabbat planet

A new group of councilmen is looking to reopen the issue of venues operating on the day of rest.

Haredim take part in a protest in Mea She’arim against the municipality opening a nearby road on Shabbat. (photo credit: REUTERS/BAZ RATNER)
Haredim take part in a protest in Mea She’arim against the municipality opening a nearby road on Shabbat.
(photo credit: REUTERS/BAZ RATNER)
A well-known Jewish joke details a delegation to Mars that was prevented by the locals (Martians) from lighting a match to discern whether there was oxygen there. The little green men later explained to the astronauts that they had been offended such an experiment could take place on Shabbat! Jokes are sometimes just another way to describe reality, and as a high-ranking official at the municipality’s culture department put it recently, the issue of Shabbat in Jerusalem – or better yet, the issue of desecrating Shabbat in the Holy City – is far from being resolved.
Indeed, despite the city being directed by a secular mayor, with a shrinking and very weakened haredi representation in his coalition, the battle for Shabbat is never-ending. But this time, there is a new group – formed by some city councilmen from the United Torah Judaism list, and backed by haredi activists – trying to reopen the issue, even in venues that have been open on Shabbat for a long time.
“They have made an extensive list of such places open on Shabbat,” said the official, “which include restaurants and pubs that are not kosher anyway. It seems a little strange; they must realize these places are not [suddenly] going to shut down on Shabbat.”
In fact, the battle over respecting Shabbat in Jerusalem has never stopped – only moved from one spot to another, according to the level of the problem in the view of the haredi sector. For the past few months, the “Shabbat strategy” – as it is called by secular activists – had been localized in just two major locations: on Hanevi’im Street (near the junction with Straus Street, close to Mea She’arim and Geula); and on Eliash Street, behind Hamashbir Lazarchan, where for the past few weeks a kiosk has been functioning on the day of rest. Also, from time to time, haredim on their way to the Old City and the Western Wall on Shabbat would amass near the entrance to Karta Parking, as cars drive there.
To careful observers, this relative calm didn’t herald that the main battle was over. Yet the decision by the group of councilmen to include venues open on Shabbat, in completely private locations, seems curious. “They cannot ignore the fact that nothing can force a non-kosher restaurant to close on Shabbat in the First Station complex, for example, so it is not clear why they keep pointing at that venue,” added the official.
Last week, the councillors’ activity – led by the representative of Gur Hassidim, Yochanan Weissman – reached an interesting point. At a special meeting they requested with Mayor Nir Barkat, the group complained to him about the “rising number of restaurants and other venues open on Shabbat,” and requested he find a way to stop “the rampant desecration of Shabbat in the city.”
But at the end of the meeting, the haredi representatives were the first to admit their request was not accepted. Sources among Safra Square officials and from the benches of the rest of the coalition members rejected the idea of the haredi members quitting in protest. This means the request they presented to Barkat could not turn into a means of threatening they will leave, and thus weaken, the coalition. So what was the meaning of pointing a gun without ammunition? “It could be ‘calendar syndrome,’” a former city councilman from the haredi sector told me. “Every year during this period, we launch the fund-raising for our yeshivot. This year, the big yeshivot in Bnei Brak will have a relatively easier job, due to the decree of the IDF draft for yeshiva students, so we have to find something specifically for Jerusalem.
There is nothing better than the pledge to protect Shabbat in the city for that mission.”
In reality, in regard to cultural and leisure activities on Shabbat, the changes that have occurred in the city over the past five years are remarkable, and include a lot of venues which are – in different ways – linked to the municipality. These include the Beit Hansen art center and Mahaneh Yehuda, where many bars and restaurants are now open on Shabbat; as well as private venues, whose number is constantly growing.
In the majority of these cases, there is nothing the Holy City’s haredim can do to prevent or stop this trend. Nothing but protest – and that is exactly what they are doing; no less, no more.