Should Israel declare Sunday a day off? - editorial

With Sunday as a day off, it could boot Israel's economy because it will allow Sabbath observers a full day off to go see family, participate in activities, etc.

 Shabbat (Illustrative). (photo credit: MENDY HECHTMAN/FLASH90)
Shabbat (Illustrative).
(photo credit: MENDY HECHTMAN/FLASH90)

South Africa’s Chief Rabbi, Warren Goldstein, revived a longtime proposal in an op-ed he penned for The Jerusalem Post on Friday: Declare Sunday a weekly day off for the country, allowing Israelis to enjoy a proper weekend to rest and heal. We think he makes some salient points and that the new government should adopt his proposal.

“As the members of the Knesset begin their term of office and a new government is established, there is a historic opportunity to do something real to heal the divisions within Israeli society,” writes Goldstein, who a decade ago founded the Shabbat Project, a movement aimed at rallying Jews to observe the Sabbath together. “At the same time, they can restore to its pride of place something that is at the very heart of the Jewish people – Shabbat.”

Goldstein argues that the move would save Jewish unity and Shabbat, which have tragically been at odds with each other. 

“The bitter fight over whether or not the Jewish state should allow public transport, recreation and sports activities on Shabbat has led to a wider, bitter power struggle between two opposing camps fighting for the victory of their cause,” he observes.

He says the best practical solution would be to institute a two-and-a-half day weekend from Friday lunchtime to Monday morning.

Children playing sports (credit: Courtesy)Children playing sports (credit: Courtesy)

“This will free up time and space for sports, recreation and for people to visit family. And sacred time for Shabbat, our divine heritage,” he says.

Among other things, Goldstein says, there is even reason to believe the change could actually boost Israel’s economy because freeing up Sunday would provide Sabbath observers with a full day of shopping and a day to participate in sports or to enjoy being spectators. 

With Sunday as a day off, Israelis can enjoy so much more

As the World Cup comes to a close, we are reminded that the sport is a big deal in Israel, too. In fact, there have been rumblings from haredi parties in the emerging coalition that they would like to ban league soccer games on Saturdays. Legislating a long weekend would be an easy way to both respect religious sensibilities and play matches on Sundays.

The standard work week in Israel is 42 hours, from Sunday to Thursday, although many Israelis work overtime, with a maximum of 12 overtime hours a week permitted by law. Goldstein believes his proposal would be supported by a majority of Israelis and politicians from across the spectrum, citing a survey he commissioned recently. The survey revealed widespread support for a shorter workweek, with 76% in favor of a Sunday weekend. A whopping 91% are concerned that the tension around state and religion is undermining the unity of Israeli society, while 83% of respondents are confident that making Sunday part of the weekend would reduce these tensions.

As Goldstein says, introducing a long weekend appears to be an international post-COVID trend, especially among developed nations. 

“We’re seeing a number of countries testing a four-day workweek, and the early results have been very promising as far as the socioeconomic impact is concerned,” he claims.

The ultimate goal would be to allow the country to have a restful weekend (with the notable exceptions of emergency services and security forces) and give us “a way to nurture national healing and reconciliation after years of cyclical elections and terrible acrimony.” 

It would allow members of the three major religions to observe their own Sabbaths every week. For Muslims, Friday is a religious day on which many attend mosques; for Jews, Saturday is Shabbat, when many go to synagogue; and for Christians, Sunday is a day of rest on which many go to church. As we approach the Hanukkah and Christmas holiday season, this is a perfect time to consider a long weekend. It would not only score points for the new government but offer us all a reset button for a fresh start.

“The newly constituted Knesset should make this the first order of business,” Goldstein writes. “In order to deal with all the enormous political, financial and military threats facing Israel, a sense of unity is vital. By introducing this legislation, the Knesset can help bridge those divides.”

We can add only one word: Amen!