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Rabbi Lau Pens Poignant Letter Protesting Tel Aviv Decision to Run Buses on Shabbat


Chief Rabbi of Tel Aviv Yisrael Meir Lau

Chief Rabbi of Tel Aviv Yisrael Meir Lau
Photo Credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90

Tel Aviv Chief Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau expressed “pain and disappointment” over a recent resolution by the Tel Aviv-Jaffa city council seeking permission to operate public transportation on Shabbat.

In a letter to Tel Aviv mayor Ron Huldai that was published on Tuesday morning, Lau pleaded with him to reverse the council’s decision, writing: “This decision taints the history of Tel Aviv, which was founded 103 years ago as the first Hebrew city,” and is a “severe blow to the sanctity of Shabbat – a day of spiritual uplifing and rest for all workers.”

Lau urged Huldai to follow in the footsteps of earlier mayors who “did not allow the candle of Shabbat to burn out,” and reminded him that great figures in Israeli history -Chaim Nachman Bialik, Meir Dizengoff, and Ahad Ha’am among them- strived to “preserve its identity as a city that safeguards the sanctity of Shabbat in the public domain.”

The chief rabbi said the resolution violates the ‘Status Quo’, which “has been the basis for government policies since the country’s inception.” The ‘Status Quo’ was a historic compromise reached between David Ben Gurion and the Yishuv’s religious Jewish communities in 1947, whereby he pledged that  religion would be paid deference and/or Jewish law and ritual would apply in four main areas (Shabbat, Kashrut, family laws, and education), in exchange for their consolidated support before the UN.

Lau, who usually demures on secular-religious issues, said he was “writing in the name of the thousands of people who observe Shabbat who supported [Huldai's] election.” He expressed his intention to appeal to the relevant government ministers and implore them to deny the request for a permit, “so that Shabbat will be kept in the pubic domain, as is fitting for a Jewish state.”

The resolution was originally proposed by Meretz Councilwoman Tamar Zandberg, in association with the Be Free Israel organization, a group dedicated to “freedom of religion and pluralism” in Israel, according to their website. The motion passed 13-7, and was also supported by Huldai. “Whoever doesn’t want to get on a bus on Shabbat doesn’t have to,” Huldai reportedly said after the vote.

The Transportation Ministry, headed by Likud MK Yisrael Katz, stated Tuesday that it would reject the request, citing its contradiction of the ‘Status Quo’.

Meretz chairwoman Zehava Gal-On responded to the rejection with an appeal to Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein, saying that the decision-making process and rationale were inadequate. “The secular majority in Tel Aviv is interested in the operation of public transportation on Shabbat, as was seen in a discussion and vote held by the city council,” she wrote. “Enacting the operation of public transportation on Shabbat would advance principles of social justice and improve the environment and freedom of religion.”

Habayit Hayehudi MK Uri Orbach responded to the resolution by saying that Mayor Huldai should “first make sure there is adequate public transportation in Tel Aviv on weekdays.”

Opponents of the resolution point to the fact that moniot sherut (taxi vans that operate on almost all the routes of public buses in Tel Aviv, for the same approximate cost) are a permitted alternative on Shabbat, and assert that the resolution is a largely symbolic move by contrarians that are reflexively hostile to the ‘encroachment’ and ‘religious coercion’ of Judaism in the Jewish State.

About the Author: Rafi Harkham is an Editor and Senior Analyst at The Jewish Press.


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4 Responses to “Rabbi Lau Pens Poignant Letter Protesting Tel Aviv Decision to Run Buses on Shabbat”

  1. tzilia says:

    Although I am blessed to be a Shabbat observant Jewess, I can understand the feelings of “secular” Jews about public transportation on Shabbat. Shabbat is the only day off, the only opportunity to take ones’ children to visit family and friends who live at a distance, to go to zoos, museums, beaches and hikes in the country.
    If a famiy has money they can afford a car or can pay for a taxi service, but those who are regular people without great paying jobs have to rely on public busses. The poor and average “secular”Jew is at a big disadvantage.
    Yes, it would be wonderful and joyful if all Jews kept Shabbat but I don’t think that we should force people into observance. We should increase our reaching out, welcoming and showing the beauty of our Torah. Of course if another day of the week was called family day and given off that would be a big incentive to keep Shabbat and have the other day for trips.

  2. Aurora Aronsson says:

    Lau was chosen by his leftist and anti-religious friends because he represents fast-food Judaism.
    Now he cooks in the soup he made.

  3. RoyBoy says:

    its time for israel to let go of its practices to allow religious control over a civilized country in the 21st century by deferring to the beth din and religious leaders. we are no different than Iran or any of the religious radical arab countries that are ruled by religious doctrine – which has no longer any presence in a world that has become aware of an ancient society that was controlled by standards that applied to that ‘historic’ period. “let go” brethren – the world of the 20/21st century has become enlightened!

  4. Sara Mandell says:

    I, too, am blessed to be a Shabbat Observant Jewess. Our Blessed Father gave us & our workers & animals a day off every week, so that we could spend some spiritual rejoicing with the Divine & our Soul (who only needs 1 day). Yet we enslave ourselves, even though the Big Boss said, “Rejoice your spirit on the Sabbath Day.” I DO AGREE with tzilia about the problem of traveling to visit family, do what we only have ONE DAY A WEEK to do! We poor people with no car have a hard time doing their traveling. I propose that we have a Nofesh & a Chofesh. One day for the spirit & one day for family fun or important personal business. A lot more Jews would observe Shabbat if we did, and most of Israel tries to use Friday getting ready for Shabbat anyway so they’re not working.With a Nofesh & Chofesh plan, we wouldn’t need to run the public transportation on Shabbat. That would be so disrespectful to our own way of life & to the Merciful G-d of Israel Who finally, after 2,000 years, redeemed this Holy Land like He said He would, though it took a long time this time. The first exile was only 70 years. Our Holy Torah gave the whole world the idea, or the reality of freeing mankind from his neverending desires & greed until we grind ourselves into dust. And is this the kind of thanks & respect we give our own G-d? Don’t let Tel Aviv become the Las Vegas of Israel. We still have the traces of what happened to Sodom & Gemora.

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