MKs gear up against NRP's Shabbat bill

In addition to long weekend, proposal calls for public transporation on Shabbat.

zevulun orlev 298 88 aj (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
zevulun orlev 298 88 aj
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
In a rare show of solidarity, Orthodox legislators and their secular left-wing counterparts joined forces Monday to lambaste National Union-National Religious Party Chairman Zevulun Orlev for proposing a change in the Shabbat Law. Orlev succeeded in using the Shabbat to unite the normally at-odds parliamentarians, but not in the way he had hoped. While the religious accuse Orlev of betraying the Heavenly commandment to rest, strident secularists liken the religious Zionist MK to a Jewish Khomeini. Still, many lawmakers such as Eitan Cabel (Labor) have voiced support for Orlev's initiative, which stands a chance of garnering a majority in the Knesset but will face stiff opposition from coalition member Shas. The secular-religious united front provides a vivid example of the delicate balance in a country that does not separate between religion and state. It is ostensibly forbidden to operate a business on Shabbat in Israel. However, over the past decade consumer forces have rendered the present Shabbat Law nearly impossible to enforce. Orlev proposes to combat this trend. If his bill becomes law, Friday, presently a half-day off for most people, will be turned into a regular workday, until the onset of Shabbat at sunset. Sunday would become a second day of rest, creating a full-fledged weekend. The most controversial part of the bill has to do with what will and will not be permitted on Shabbat. Orlev enraged religious MKs, including a member of his own NU-NRP faction - Rabbi Yitzhak Levy - and haredi legislators from United Torah Judaism and Shas, by proposing to lighten restrictions on public transportation, presently forbidden, and to permit certain leisure activities. This despite the careful wording of the law by four leading religious Zionist rabbis: Israel Rosen of the Zomet Institute; Nahum Rabinovitch, head of the hesder yeshiva in Ma'ale Adumim; Tzefania Drori, head of the hesder yeshiva in Kiryat Shmona; and Haifa Chief Rabbi She'ar Yishuv Hakohen. "We wrote the law in a way that we would not be directly condoning Shabbat desecration," said Rosen. For instance, the rabbis wrote that "if a municipality head decides to provide public transportation, only minibuses seating no more than 12 passengers will be used." "We helped write the bill with a heavy heart," Rosen said. "But our approach, unlike the haredim, is to offer a solution for the entire Jewish population, both religious and secular." In contrast, secular MKs are up in arms over Orlev's proposal to crack down on state institutions, industries and retail chains that desecrate the Shabbat, saying Orlev was employing religious coercion. MK Danny Yatom (Labor) said, "I welcome the partial openness in the proposal, but I oppose the restrictions on the secular public, which has the right to shop on Shabbat. The religious should honor seculars people's freedom of employment and freedom of choice on Shabbat as well." Meretz faction chairwoman MK Zehava Gal-On said the "so-called Shabbat revolution" proposed by Orlev was unsatisfactory. "As long as the religious-rabbinical establishment dictates how we should marry, divorce and eat, and what we should eat, all these proposals are meaningless," she said. Shas chairman Eli Yishai, Industry, Trade and Labor Minister, highlighted his party's rejection of the Orlev bill by referring to it as a "religious reform." "The bill was drafted by one of the parties calling itself religious," said Yishai, "but that is really Reform when it comes to Shabbat. "It's a pity that a party that has lost its political way is trying to turn Shabbat, a concept that preserved the Jews in the Diaspora, into a political agenda," he said. MK Meir Porush (UTJ) joined Yishai in calling the NRP "Reform Jews." Orlev said in response that Yishai had failed in "simple reading comprehension." "My proposal will reduce mass Shabbat desecration, performed under the aegis of Yishai's Industry, Trade and Labor Ministry, at retail chains across the nation," said Orlev. Yishai's ministry is supposed to monitor, supervise and enforce the Shabbat Law. "Shas's all-or-nothing approach simply does not work. And it has not for the last decade during which Shas has been responsible for enforcing the Shabbat Law. Rather, by adding Sunday as a day off and keeping Friday a regular workday, we can more easily ban all commerce on Shabbat, since it can be done on Sunday instead. Also, there is a chance of concentrating more entertainment and leisure activities, such as sports games, on Sundays," Orlev said.