Against the background of an election in which the place of religion in public life was a central theme, several prominent and conservative religious-Zionist rabbis have organized an “explanatory Shabbat” in Ramat Gan declaiming against public transportation and expounding on the importance of Sabbath observance. Community and synagogue rabbis across the city will deliver addresses regarding the importance of Shabbat observanceRamat Gan has been the scene of considerable controversy in recent months, after the city’s municipal council authorized a form of public transport in the city on Shabbat. Public transportation on Shabbat is not legally permissible in most cities as part of the “status quo” agreement reached in 1947 between David Ben-Gurion and the ultra-Orthodox Agudat Yisrael movement, which addressed the community’s concerns about the status of religion in the putative state. But in June this year, the Ramat Gan Municipal Council initiated a pilot program of two bus lines running on Friday nights and Saturdays, which has proven both popular and controversial.The program is possible since the buses do not charge passengers for the service, which is instead funded entirely by the municipal authority. The service is therefore not technically defined as public transportation and does not require the authorization of the Transportation Ministry. According to Ramat Gan Deputy Mayor Roi Barzilai of the Free Ramat Gan faction, approximately 1,000 people have used the service every week, with 14,000 total users during the two-and-a-half months it has been in operation. The pilot program will conclude at the end of September, but the municipality intends to establish a permanent service, which it expects to be up-and-running by November or December this year. Fliers advertising this week’s “explanatory Shabbat” were distributed by the hard-line religious-Zionist organization Hotam and signed by Rabbis Yaakov Ariel and Yehoshua Shapira, among others. The fliers declare that “the status of Shabbat in Israel has very [much] deteriorated as of late.”The rabbis wrote that “activities which harm the status quo which has been in practice in the city for decades,” have been undertaken, and protest specifically against the new Shabbat transportation service. “Shabbat is one of the foundation stones of Judaism,” wrote the rabbis, and emphasized the day’s spiritual roots in the Biblical account of creation and its commemoration of the Exodus from Egypt and the “physical and spiritual enslavement” suffered there. “Over Shabbat, community and synagogue rabbis will deal with the importance of Shabbat observance in the public domain,” the rabbis wrote. “We call on the general public to participate in this explanatory Shabbat, out of a will to continue to observe Shabbat in the public domain in the city of Ramat Gan.”Barzilai said that although he understands the rabbis’ perspective, he argued that their insistence on preventing even a limited public transportation service on Shabbat was unreasonable. He pointed out that the two bus lines do not go through religious neighborhoods and that bus stops were positioned well away from any synagogues.Barzilai also argued that the limited service of a bus every hour on Friday nights from 9 p.m. and a bus every two hours on Saturday morning from 9 a.m. had not and would not impact or affect religious residents of the city. “It’s not possible that their decision not to travel on Shabbat should stop those who want to from doing so,” said the deputy mayor.