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Haredi Shabbat demonstration

The Knesset Plenum on Wednesday approved in a preliminary reading a bill stating that while considering a request to employ a worker on Shabbat, the Minister of Labor, Social Affairs And Social Services may take into consideration, as much as possible, the offense this might cause to Israel’s tradition.

The motion passed by a vote of 43 to 32, and will now be transferred to the Labor, Welfare and Health Committee, which will prepare it for its first reading in the Plenum.

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Sponsored by MK Moshe Gafni (United Torah Judaism) and other MKs, is an amendment to the Hours of Work and Rest Law.

The bill’s explanatory portion states that, “Recently it has come to light that governmental bodies such as Israel Railways and the National Roads Company have turned Shabbat into the preferred day for conducting infrastructure work on Israel’s roads and train tracks. These works are carried out in the open and cause severe harm to the Jewish character of the State and severely hurt the feelings of millions of religious and traditional citizens in the State of Israel.”

“In addition, the work also hurts the laborers, among them many Jews for whom [Jewish heritage] is important, and they have to leave their families [at home] and go to work on the day of rest and desecrate Shabbat. Some of the workers belong to the weaker echelons of society and have to work on Shabbat, fearing that if they refuse to do so, they would not be called in to work on the rest of the days of the week as well.”

MK Gafni said, “Currently, the labor minister cannot take the issue of Israel’s tradition into consideration. This bill does not obligate the minister to [take Israel’s tradition into consideration]; it gives him the option to consider this matter as well. It is not a coercive law and it does not change the relevant cases existing in other laws. Not taking Israel’s heritage into consideration is akin to forgetting that we are Jews.”

Gafni pointed out that the leaders of Zionism and the community leaders in the Zionist settlements outside Jerusalem’s walls starting in the 1880s, always took the issue of Shabbat into consideration.”

Responding on behalf of the government, Labor Minister Haim Katz (Likud) said the government supports the legislation, but noted that he has taken both Shabbat and the labor laws into account when granting permits for work on the Jewish day of rest.

He also noted that ” some of those who work there are not even Israeli or Jewish; they are workers of foreign companies who won tenders.”

MK Yair Lapid (Yesh Atid) expressed his opposition to the bill, saying “You are hurting Israeli tradition. I love Shabbat just as much as MK Gafni does, but my Shabbat is different. It is written [in the bible] ‘Six days you shall labor’; how will they get to work? How will they get to the army? Jewish tradition managed just fine for thousands of years without bills whose sole purpose is to stick a finger in other people’s eyes. You do not own Jewish tradition.”

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