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Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, Chief Mayor of Efrat

{Originally posted toi the author’s website, Emes Ve-Emunah}

Rabbi Shlomo Riskin has done it again. Well… actually he hasn’t – exactly. According to a headline in the Jewish Press, Rabbi Riskin has advocated public desecration of Shabbos by the Israeli government. That would be shocking if it were true. But if one reads the actual text of the article one will see that what he was actually asking for is a ‘work around’ the law forbidding public transportation on Shabbos. One that would allow buses to operate on Shabbos without a technical violation of it. How would that work? Simple solution.  Use non Jewish bus drivers.


The truth is that here are several problems with this solution and I would not support it. Nor, I imagine, would the Chief Rabbinate or any other rabbinic authority. Even though that there would be no Jew violating Shabbos if a non Jew did the driving. More about that later.

I understand his reason for advocating this. I even agree with it. He is of the same opinion I am. One cannot shove religion down people’s throats.  Those that are secular and do not have the means to own their own vehicles are forced to use public transportation on Shabbos. Which doesn’t exist in certain areas on Shabbos. This is an situation that favors the rich and is grossly unfair to the poor. I’m sure makes the secular demographic quite angry. And it is yet another thing to be upset at the Israeli Chief Rabbinate about.

I am nonetheless opposed to this solution. That something is unfair to a poor non observant Jew does not mean we provide the means for them to violate Shabbos. That violates another Halachic principle: Lifnei Iveir – the Torah prohibition to not putting a stumbling block in front of a blind person. In this case a bus on Shabbos for secular Jews.

Although not technically violating Shabbos if a non Jew drives them, there will inevitably be other violations (e.g. handling of money). There is also the issue of being Misayeah L’Aveira – greasing the path – making it easier for them to sin. By allowing public transportation on Shabbos it enables them to get to a destination where they will very likely sin. There is also the problem of Amira L’Nochri – a Jew telling non Jews do work for him on Shabbos – which is not permitted in most cases. True, for the benefit of the public it is permitted. But in this case only the non Orthodox public would benefit. That is not the kind of public benefit Halacha had in mind to permit asking a non Jew to do work for you on Shabbos.

Not to mention the fact that it would destroy the spirit of Shabbos to have public transpiration on that day as though it was just another weekday.  And finally it would violate the status quo agreement to allow public transportation in areas that did not have any in the past. (Just as it would to forbid  it in places that already exists.) The truth is that Israel is Orthodox. And it ought to look Orthodox.

Again, this does not mean we meddle in anyone’s personal affairs. If a secular Jew violates Shabbos on his own, that is his business.  It would be nice – as Rabbi Riskin says if the entire country were observant. But that is not the case. Ramming Halacha down their throats is a sure prescription for chasing them away from observance. As I often say honey works better than vinegar. Showing a secular Jew the beauty of a Torah lifestyle is the way to go, not by forcing them to do things they do not want to do.

I can just hear many on the Left of Orthodoxy saying, ‘Wait!’ ‘Back up a bit.’ ‘What’s that you say?’ ‘Israel should be an Orthodox State?!’ ‘No it shouldn’t!’ ‘It should be pluralistic!

Well that is not anything an Orthodox  Jews should agree to. If you are an Orthodox Jew and believe that is the way in which God wants His people to live than you believe the State in which his people live…the state given to us by God Himself, ought to be Orthodox.

Of course heterodox rabbis dispute that. They will say to Orthodox rabbis, ‘You’re OK’. But that is followed up by ‘We’re OK, too’.  They want the Israeli government to say it. Officially. They want Israel to say that there are many legitimate ways to be Jewish. And that Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform Judaism are all different – but legitimate streams of Judaism.

They have many people championing that cause. Including heterodox rabbis, and the secular Jewish media. Even some liberal Orthodox rabbis on the far Left have argued in favor of pluralism! But Rabbi Riskin is not one of them. Yes, he is liberal. But he understands the necessity of Israel being Orthodox. He believes that Israel and its institutions must remain that way. Heterodox rabbis need to understand that they cannot be recognized. So says Rabbi Shlomo Riskin. From the Jewish Press:

But before Rabbi Riskin’s interview is picked up for fund raising brochures of Women of the Wall and other Reform and Conservative institutions, he stressed that “Judaism in the State of Israel must be Orthodox,” and “the official prayer at the Western Wall must be Orthodox, with a partition and according to halachic rules.” “They (Reform and Conservative) cannot be officially recognized, they need to understand that,” he said. “At the same time, I also think that the State of Israel must understand that our Jewish places should include non-Orthodox Jews. The establishment prayer must be Orthodox.

I have had my issues with some of the things Rabbi Riskin has done of late. As is the case with his solution for allowing public transportation on Shabbos. Although I agree with his motives, I do not agree his solution. But when he’s right, he’s right. And when it comes to whether Israel should remain an Orthodox state, I could not agree with this liberal rabbi more.