On halacha, politics and humanity

Interior Minister Arye Deri demonstrated a lack of humanity in expecting a bereaved husband to hurry from his wife’s Shiva to the Knesset to vote for his bill.

Shas party leader Arye Deri (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Shas party leader Arye Deri
Interior Minister Arye Deri’s application to the head of the Har Hevron Regional Council for halachic approval for MK Yehudah Glick to come to the Knesset to support the “Supermarket Bill” elicited deep criticism.
Indeed Deri demonstrated a lack of humanity in expecting a bereaved husband to hurry from his wife’s Shiva to the Knesset to vote for Deri’s bill. The criticism is magnified by Deri’s own sharp criticism of the opposition factions for refusing to put off the vote due to Glick’s absence.
No words are sharp enough to condemn Deri’s move, which if not amounting to Hillul Hashem, a desecration of God’s name, certainly violated the human dignity of both MK Glick and his departed wife. Not less outrageous was Deri’s excuse: “The vote was intended to preserve Shabbat’s holiness.”
Before being over-impressed by Deri’s dedication to preventing the desecration of a single Shabbat, one is advised to trace the steps which led to the bill meant to deposit in the minister’s hands the key to the opening of businesses on Shabbat.
It all started in 2013 when the High Court of Justice ordered the Tel Aviv Municipality to enforce the bylaws prohibiting the operation of shops on Shabbat. If the municipality wished to permit their operation, added the court, it should amend its bylaws.
The municipality acted accordingly and amended its bylaws, permitting the operation on Shabbat of businesses in three commercial zones, gas station convenience stores, and supermarkets.
Then-interior minister Gideon Sa’ar approved the changes, save for the provision referring to supermarkets. The Tel Aviv Municipality enacted another bylaw, permitting the operation of supermarkets on Shabbat, subject to several limitations.
Sa’ar ordered that publication of this new bylaw – a prerequisite to it entering into force – be put off. The next step would have been for the minister to approve the bylaw, disqualify it or return it to the city council for further consideration. However, Sa’ar resigned from the government before taking any of these steps.
At this point the Merchants’ Association petitioned the Supreme Court to set aside the bylaw while the municipality petitioned the court against the minister’s decision to withhold the bylaw’s publication.
In the meantime Silvan Shalom was appointed as interior minister.
A year later he declared a conflict of interests and the issue was transferred to the government.
The government appointed a committee of directors general of the various ministries to submit its recommendations. Only after a year and three months did the committee inform the government of its failure to reach a recommendation.
ON JANUARY 29, 2017, Deri was appointed interior minister, with the authority to approve the bylaw or not. One might have expected Deri to disqualify the bylaw without delay, and he indeed declared that he would submit his decision to this effect by the end of March.
However, Deri was in no hurry and in spite of the court’s remarkable patience failed to submit his decision, whereupon the court submitted its: absent any objection by the minister, the court approved the bylaw.
Even then the haredi (ultra-Orthodox) parties were in no hurry to enact a bylaw prohibiting the operation of shops on Shabbat.
Instead they commissioned the attorney general to ask for further consideration of the court’s decision, by an enlarged panel.
During the new hearing amazing facts were revealed.
The attorney general told the court that only on April 18, 2017, had Deri informed him of his intention to abolish the bylaw, and only a day later – hours before the court rendered its verdict – had he presented the attorney general with a unsigned copy of his decision; a document with no legal force.
This decision was presented to the court only during the new hearing. Rightfully the court rejected the document. Indeed the court had no difficulty in reaching its decision as the attorney general himself admitted that the minister’s decision “raises severe difficulties especially in the area of the intervention of the central government in the autonomy of the local council.”
Lo and behold, this bylaw had been lying on the government’s table for two-and-a-half years, for two of which the haredi parties were part of the coalition – while Deri himself served as interior minister for a year and three months – and they saw no need to disqualify it and “save” Shabbat.
Yet all of a sudden the same minister is in such a hurry as to attempt to summon a bereaved husband from his wife’s shiva lest, God forbid, it be delayed by a whole week.
Why did Deri act thus? The answer is clear: when health minister Ya’acov Litzman resigned over the issue of train works on Shabbat, heavy pressure was put on Deri to follow him. The only way to save himself from Litzman’s fate was to pass the supermarkets bill. In other words, it was not Shabbat Deri cared about so deeply, but rather his minister’s chair.
Shabbat’s honor was rather saved by Rabbi Re’em Ha’Cohen, who was called in to give his view on Deri’s appeal to Glick. In an interview the rabbi said: “Indeed the minister appealed to me to try and see whether Glick might get up from the Shiva in order to vote. Humanly speaking, does that seem normal to you? ...First and foremost one has to be a human being. Proper behavior precedes the Torah.”
And he added: “I told Deri that the issue is not halachic, the issue is human. I told Yehudah that from a human point of view I didn’t think he should go. It is irrelevant, it is illogical. We must behave like human beings.”
The author is dean of the Peres Academic Center Law School and member of the board of the International Consortium of Law and Religion Studies. He advised Tel Aviv Municipality lawyers in this case.