Photo Credit: Yossi Zamir / Flash 90
Transportation Minister Merav Michaeli (Labor) visits a train station in Tel Aviv, June 16, 2021.

Israel’s new Transportation Minister and Labor chairwoman Merav Michaeli concluded her first week in office by declaring—on Shabbat—her desire to promote public transportation on Shabbat. Michaeli said she wants to pass the decision to the heads of the local municipalities, and the buses would stop wherever those municipalities would invite them to operate.

For the record, Minister Michaeli can’t establish public transportation on Shabbat without the consent of all the other members of the very narrow coalition government which to date received the confidence of only 59 MKs. In other words, it would be enough that, say, Minister of religious services Matan Kahana from Yamina, disagree, and there won’t be public transportation in Israel on Shabbat. The same goes for Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked (Yamina). In short, if the Lapid-Bennett cabinet does not reach an agreement on it, there won’t be public transportation on Shabbat.

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Which means that only two elements in Israel derive any benefit from Michaeli’s promises: her own Labor party which gets to look like it’s fighting the religious establishment; and the Haredi parties that use this as yet another proof that the new government is looking to eradicate the Jewish character of the Jewish State.

A public opinion poll published by the Jewish People Policy Institute (JPPI) found that among Israeli Jews who don’t own cars, 35% supported a complete prohibition on public transportation on Shabbat, compared to 21% who wanted unlimited transportation. Only 11% of them were willing to allow each municipality to decide, and 34% agreed to public transportation, as long as it’s kept outside religious communities.

In light of those figures, Shmuel Rosner of the Madad website suggested on Sunday that the Bennett-Lapid government might turn out to be the best forum where issues of religion and state find practical solutions that would forever rid Israel of the decades-long strife over them.

Public transportation on Shabbat is a simple dispute that was turned into a symbol, Rosner argues. “Once it is resolved, and someday it will probably happen (and there will be some public transportation on Saturday), it will turn out to be far less essential than it seems to the warriors who are determined to regulate it. Not that there will be no users. There will be. But it is worth acknowledging the truth: even today, almost anyone who wants to get somewhere on Shabbat manages to get there. Once there is public transportation, there will be access to a few more that today don’t have it, or for whom it’s complicated. This relief should not be underestimated, but its importance should not be overstated either. In other words: not only the party opposing public transport on Shabbat overstates the importance of the issue – but the party supporting public transport on Shabbat also overstates it.”

Shas MK Yinon Azulai declared in response to Michaeli’s statement: “This declaration is only intended to erase the status quo that has existed for decades and to desecrate the Jewish day of rest, and violate the sanctity of Shabbat, which is a reminder of an eternal covenant.”

Except for the fact that part of the status quo of the past seven decades has been the fact that millions of Israeli cars hit the highways on Shabbat. The only cars that don’t are public busses that serve folks who can’t afford to own a car. All of which puts in question MK Azulai’s next assertion, that “a violent and vociferous minority is trying to force its opinion on the majority of the people who want to keep the Shabbat and to preserve the Jewish identity of the State of Israel.”

The reason why it’s only a vociferous minority of Israeli Jews who are fighting for public transpiration on Shabbat is that the silent majority don’t care – they drive their cars on Shabbat wherever they feel like, eternal covenants notwithstanding.

MK Azulai concluded: “I call on Prime Minister Naftali Bennett: Do not lend your hand to this thing. Continue in the legacy of your predecessors who did not allow the Shabbat candle to be extinguished.”

Except that, naturally, Naftali Bennett is the very first Prime Minister who actually observes Shabbat, while the entire list of his predecessors, including the most recent one who enjoys MK Azulai’s loyal support, did not.

How do you feel about this? Should the Lapid-Bennett government permit local municipalities to decide whether or not they want public transportation and, for that matter commerce on Shabbat? Would it harm Israel’s character as a Jewish State? Do Israeli Jews who currently desecrate Shabbat regularly threaten the Jewish character of the state? Please let us know.

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David writes news at JewishPress.com.