The Knesset plenum overnight Tuesday passed a proposed amendment to the Law on Hours of Work and Rest, adding a section on Consideration of Jewish Tradition). The amendment had been submitted as by the government as well as a private bill by MK Moshe Gafni (United Torah Judaism). Fifty MKs voted for the amendment, 38 against.
The amendment compels the Labor, Welfare and Social Services Minister to take into consideration the following considerations in granting a permit to employ workers during the weekly rest hours: the employee’s welfare; the “tradition of Israel” (meaning Jewish halakha); a possible alternative that would not require employment on the national day of rest; the effect of granting the permit on the nature of the public space in which the work will be carried out; and any other consideration that may produce the employer’s desired results without asking an employee to work on Shabbat.
The explanatory notes accompanying the new law read: “It has recently become clear that government entities such as Israel Railways and the National Roads Company have turned Shabbat into a preferred day for infrastructure work on Israel’s roads and railways. These works, carried out in public, severely harm both the Jewish character of the state and the feelings of millions of religious and traditional residents in the State of Israel.
“In addition, the work also harms workers, among whom are many Jews whose tradition is important to them, and who are forced to part from their families and go to work on the day of rest and desecrate the Shabbat – when some of the employees belong to the weaker sectors of society and are coerced into working on Shabbat out of fear that if they refuse to work on Shabbat, they would lose their jobs the rest of the week.”
Many in the opposition condemned the new amendment as an example of the Netanyahu government being blackmailed by its Haredi partners. Others noted the absence of clear language defining exactly to what lengths must the Minister of Labor go to consult “the tradition of Israel.”
MK Ilan Gilon (Meretz) noted that preservation of life is the primary consideration of Jewish law, and that a modern system cannot survive without work on Shabbat. “I’m telling you this in the name of God, I know Him personally,” Gilon said.