Former MK Rabbi Haim Amsalem told the website Srugim Sunday that Jewish Law provides a simple and practical solution to the problem of performing crucial infrastructure labor on Israel’s railroads on Shabbat, a problem which was threatening the stability of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s coalition government: use gentile employees.
“The simplest solution would be to follow what Jewish Halakha says and facilitates,” Rabbi Amsalem advised. “In a country where 20% of the citizens are not Jewish, when there is a compelling need, we can utilize ‘goy shel Shabbat,’ (‘Shabbes goy’) for all the labor that involves the desecration of Shabbat. We’ve done this for hundreds of years, everybody is familiar with the concept — the gentiles would receive an increased pay and Jews wouldn’t be required to work on and desecrate the Shabbat,” Rabbi Amsalem said, noting that “everybody is for a modern and democratic Jewish State, so this should be a fitting solution.”
Rabbi Haim (Emile) Amsalem, 57, a native of French Algeria who immigrated to Israel in 1970, was among the founders of Shas and served as its MK, until, following a breakup with his colleagues, he launched his own party, Am Shalem (a play on his name, meaning “whole nation”) that failed to make it into the Knesset in the 2013 elections. He is considered a moderate Haredi who believes in a dialogue with secular Israelis.
“In general, it can be stated that the state institutions for the most part observe Shabbat, which is something anyone arriving in Israel from abroad notices. It may not be exactly as we want it to be, but we can’t focus only on the negative,” Amsalem told Srugim.
Pointing out that the law already provides for government to be able to issue permits for Shabbat work that relates to security, crucial economic concerns or any other matter affecting the public’s welfare, including hospitals, the power and the water utilities, Amsalem suggested that the clash over the railroad works over the past two Shabbat days was mostly about politics.
“In the end, those who cry out for the alleged honor of Shabbat ends up causing a much bigger, mass desecration. We strive to reach as broad an agreement as possible on the value of Shabbat, of its image and its respect by the public. Our role as rabbis is to take care of Shabbat observance, but when it is necessary we must find halakhic solutions that would facilitate a normative existence for society at large, and won’t cause hatred for Shabbat on the part of the public,” Amsalem said.
“In a Jewish State it is permissible to employ those for whom those vital works on Shabbat are permissible,” Amsalem concluded. “This way the needs of the modern state would be fulfilled while the demand of our Torah regarding Shabbat observance in public would be obeyed.”