TA mayor slams lack of public transport on Shabbat

Israeli is “only country in the world in which public transport does run not for a quarter of the year,” Ron Huldai says.

Tel Aviv bus 521 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Tel Aviv bus 521
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai criticized the lack of public transport on Shabbat in a post on his Facebook page on Tuesday.
Israel is “the only country in the world in which public transport does not operate for a quarter of the year because of Shabbat and festivals,” Huldai said, highlighting a recent campaign by the Be Free Israel secularist organization that aims to change this state of affairs.
He added that people without private vehicles face difficulties visiting family and friends or pursuing leisure activities, and argued that the lack of transport on Shabbat “harms the development of the country” as well as efforts to reduce pollution.
Binyamin Babayouf, a Tel Aviv city councilman for Shas, said that he and his party would fight and protest against any effort to run public transport in the city on Shabbat and festivals.
“The mayor can say what he likes, but he is not the one who will decide,” Babayouf told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday. “The [ancient] Greeks, Stalin and Communist Russia and many others have all tried to prevent Jews from observing Shabbat but none of them succeeded and they won’t succeed here in Tel Aviv either.
Babayouf denied that the lack of public transportation on the Sabbath constituted religious coercion and said that no one was trying to force people to be religiously observant.
“More than the Jewish people have guarded Shabbat, Shabbat has guarded the Jewish people,” he nevertheless said. “It is one of the greatest things that has distinguished us from other peoples. If we open government offices and run public transport, what will be the difference between a Jew living here and a Jew living in the US, Europe or Uganda? What did we come here for?” he asked.
Mickey Gitzin, director of Be Free Israel, said it is unreasonable for people to be without public transport on weekends and to be “stuck at home on Shabbat.”
He added that Babayouf was correct in ascribing great importance to Shabbat but that observing it should not have to be “in accordance with an ultra-Orthodox Shabbat.”
“I want to have Shabbat the way I want. If I want to visit my family or go to the beach then I should be able to. Different people have different ways of resting on the day of rest, but when you insist on a ‘halachic Shabbat’ people become indifferent to it,” Gitzin said.
A spokesman for Tel Aviv Chief Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau said that the rabbi prefers to deal with the issue directly with the mayor instead of creating a public argument.
In a recent study examining the level of Jewish religiosity in Israel conducted by the Israel Democracy Institute and the Avi Chai Foundation, 59 percent of respondents said they were in favor of public transportation on Shabbat and 68% said that weekday activities, such as going to cinemas, cafes and restaurants, should be available on the Sabbath as well.
On Monday, city councilwoman Tamar Zandberg will present a proposal to the city council to introduce public transportation to Tel Aviv on Shabbat, although Gitzin said that even if approved by the council, it could be overruled by the Transportation Ministry.
There is no legislation banning the operation of public transportation on Shabbat, but every bus line needs approval from the ministry, including for its hours of operation. As part of the status quo agreement on matters of religion and state, bus lines are generally prevented from operating on the Sabbath and festivals, except in the greater Haifa area, as buses operated there before the foundation of the state.