Most Israelis believe a long weekend can lower religious tensions – survey

The findings, which were released on Tuesday, showed widespread support for a shorter workweek, with 76% favoring Sunday being made part of the weekend.

A JEWISH FAMILY gathers after lighting Shabbat candles. (photo credit: ILLUSTRATIVE PHOTO/MENDY HECHTMAN/FLASH90)
A JEWISH FAMILY gathers after lighting Shabbat candles.
(photo credit: ILLUSTRATIVE PHOTO/MENDY HECHTMAN/FLASH90)

South African Chief Rabbi Warren Goldstein on Tuesday addressed a special Knesset committee discussing proposals for shortening the work week and extending the weekend through Sunday.

Goldstein, an international thought leader and a social entrepreneur, is also the founder of the international Shabbat Project (known in Israel as “Shabbat Olamit”) pledged support for the idea as a means for reducing tensions in Israeli society and giving the Sabbath its pride of place within the Jewish state.

At the meeting convened and chaired by Labor MK Naama Lazimi (Labor), Goldstein presented the findings of a recent survey he commissioned to gauge public attitudes to the idea of creating a shorter work week, and toward Shabbat in general.

The findings, which were released on Tuesday, showed widespread support for a shorter workweek, with 76% favoring Sunday being made part of the weekend.

“Most importantly,” Goldstein told the committee, “this survey shows that introducing Sunday as an extra weekend day would reduce tensions and divisions within Israeli society around Shabbat.”

Eurovision Shabbat dinner Dov Lasker, an active member of the Modern Orthodox community in Tel Aviv, prepared for visitors to the event (credit: OR MALKA)Eurovision Shabbat dinner Dov Lasker, an active member of the Modern Orthodox community in Tel Aviv, prepared for visitors to the event (credit: OR MALKA)

More than 90% of respondents were concerned that the tension around state and religion is undermining the unity of Israeli society, with 83% saying that establishing a Sunday weekend would reduce these tensions.

“It is a tragedy that Shabbat has long been seen as a touch point of the culture wars in Israel between religious and secular,” Goldstein said. “Shabbat should never be a battleground, and I feel the state must do everything possible to reduce these tensions, and in a way no one feels imposed on.”

He sees the proposal as something that would “release the pressure valve on Israeli society.”

“A weekend Sunday will give all Israelis an alternative day for shopping and competitive sport and going to the beach – for doing whatever they don’t have time for during the workweek. In that way, Shabbat can remain a prominent feature of the Jewish state – as I believe it should be – without the same division and resentment. It can become a source of unity and national pride.”

The survey also indicated that should Sunday become part of the weekend, over 50% of self-described secular people would spend more time at home resting and connecting with family on Shabbat.

For Goldstein, these findings bear out what he has personally observed over the years, with Israel becoming the global hub of the Shabbat Project, and the project being warmly embraced by Israelis across the spectrum.

“I’ve seen the power of Shabbat to be a source of unity both globally and within Israel and I’ve been amazed and inspired by the warmth Israelis of all levels of observance have shown towards Shabbat.”

He believes this proposal offers an attainable practical solution to relieving the divisions within Israeli society around Shabbat.

“We need to create space for Shabbat to be accessible to everyone in society, without causing friction, and I believe an expanded weekend will do exactly that.

“Shabbat is part of who we are as Jews,” Goldstein added. “It is so central to our heritage. We can’t allow it to be pushed out of the public spaces in Israel, but at the same time, it can’t become a divisive issue.

The good news, he said, is that it needn’t be.

“By expanding the one-day weekend, we can turn a lose-lose situation – a source of division and antipathy – into a win-win for Israelis of all stripes, and ensure Shabbat is what it was always meant to be – a day that brings Jews together.

“I want to congratulate MK Naama Lazimi for calling this meeting of the Knesset and for championing this issue, and I’d like to thank her for the opportunity and the honor of addressing the Knesset committee. I look forward to working with MK Lazimi and others as we build a coalition to support this important proposal.”

Goldstein was received with a round of applause from most of those who participated at the meeting.