Could Sundays off be the answer to Israel’s political woes? The Jewish state is unique in the Western world for its Sunday-Thursday workweek, with Friday as a day to prepare for Shabbat, and Saturday as the only complete day of rest.
Getting used to Sunday as a workday is often one of the bigger culture shocks for new olim coming back to their historical homeland; and for many, it never makes sense that they have to work on this day.
For the government, such a move would have an immediate impact on its dealings, since it convenes its weekly cabinet meeting on the majority of Sundays throughout the year. The meeting, which takes place at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, is where the cabinet discusses the pertinent issues of the day, and where government decisions are planned and made. Sunday is also the day when subcommittees can get together to discuss whatever is relevant to their work.
How a Sunday off would impact politics
However, while Sunday is packed with government meetings, there is technically no reason why those meetings couldn’t be moved to Monday.
As for the Knesset, giving the members Sunday off would not significantly change their schedule. Currently, the Knesset plenum convenes every Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. It is operative on Sunday as well, but just for committees and hearings. Again, these could easily be moved to Monday or to another day of the week.
The real question is whether having Sundays off is of interest to Knesset members.
One member, Canadian-born MK Dan Illouz (Likud), said, “As someone born in Canada, I personally experienced the benefits of Sundays off before making aliyah. I can attest to the positive impact it has on well-being and efficiency. From a free market viewpoint, businesses should decide their operating days based on market demand, and I am a strong believer in free markets.”
He added that as “Israel’s influence grows on the international stage, thanks to its booming economy and significant growth in the last decade, there’s a compelling argument for aligning with global business norms.
“With many partners around the world taking Sundays off, he said, “such alignment could enhance our international collaborations. Additionally, there’s robust evidence suggesting that shorter workweeks can improve productivity and overall employee well-being.”
He said he “wouldn’t advocate for a blanket Sunday-off mandate” but does see “the potential benefits of encouraging institutions and government offices to adopt this shift, and the private sector might very well follow suit.”
“If this trend does become popular in the private sector, it would make sense for our school system to follow, ensuring families have synchronized free days. In essence, I believe we can promote both our free market values and the broader well-being and efficiency of our nation without any contradiction,” Illouz said.
One of the more prominent political pushes for Sundays off was by Natan Sharansky and his short-lived Yisrael Ba’Aliya party, which made it one of their main policy prescriptions in 2003. Sharansky’s party was aimed at attracting support from the newly arrived Russian immigrants.
The idea, titled the Sundays Project, was pushed “on the democratic idea that every person in the State of Israel should not be forced to choose between the Sabbath as either a leisure or spiritual day. Without the imposition of religious law on anyone, a Shabbat-Sunday weekend would recognize the human energy inherent in each individual that demands respect for the different parts of our nature.”
Their goal was to “reduce religious strife by providing the country with a true leisure day for all individuals to enjoy.”
As for how it would be implemented, the plan called for making the workweek Monday to Friday and adding 30 minutes to every workday. Friday “work hours” would be from 8 a.m. until 2 p.m.
Yisrael Ba’Aliya lamented the Sunday workday as “useless in terms of productivity while business colleagues in other countries are not working.”
As a push towards more observant voters, they also called for moving all sporting events to Sunday instead of Saturday, when they are normally held. Holding these events on Shabbat has resulted in many observant fans not being able to attend over the years. As a result, the party hoped that introducing Sundays off would create “more opportunities for tolerance and enjoying a sense of shared community, and increase patriotic feeling.”
The plan did not call for transportation on Shabbat, which has been a contentious issue in the country for decades and has recently caused controversy over Tel Aviv’s new light rail. Instead, it said giving Sunday as a free day would expand the opportunity for people to visit family or engage in activities they were otherwise only able to do on Saturday.
The Sundays Project did not end up passing in the Knesset. It passed its first reading but did not get further from there. At the time, it was backed by a bipartisan slate of MKs, including its sponsor from the National Religious Party, and supporters from United Torah Judaism, Shas, Yisrael Beytenu, and Labor.
In 2011, a push to make Sunday a day off was renewed with then-vice premier Silvan Shalom campaigning on the issue. As finance minister in 2002, he had attempted to implement closing the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange on Sundays as a first step.
While today Sunday is still a workday in Israel, the goal of turning it into a day off continues to be attractive to Israelis, many of whom made aliyah from Sundays-off countries.