Photo Credit: Haim Zach/GPO
President Reuven Rivlin showing off his soccer skills (not on Shabbat)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday afternoon reached a series of agreements with the heads of the ultra-Orthodox parties on work on Shabbat.

The meeting, which took more than four hours, reached, among other things, agreements to promote a law to preserve the Shabbat status quo throughout the country while allowing Tel Aviv to prevent the closing of supermarkets on the national day of rest; preventing train traffic delays for maintenance work on weekdays; promoting a law to allow MK Yakov Litzman (United Torah Judaism) to return to the position he preferred at the health ministry before the High Court got involved, that of deputy minister; and the adoption of Likud’s Transport Minister Yisrael Katz’s proposal to allow Likud’s Labor and Social Affairs Minister Haim Katz to “take into account a number of considerations, including safety, Jewish tradition, workers’ welfare, and the extent of harm to the public space” when issuing Shabbat work permits.


The meeting also decided to preserve the status quo of holding soccer matches on Shabbat, and passing a law empowering deputy ministers to make administrative decisions normally reserved to ministers, a move that will enable Litzman to return to his original position of deputy health minister – allowing him to perform his job at the ministry without having to take responsibility for religiously dubious cabinet decisions which may not sit well with his rabbinic patrons and his voters.

A key agreement reached at the meeting was to bring to a vote as early as next week the “supermarkets law” authored by Interior Minister Aryeh Deri (Shas), making it unlawful for municipalities to enact bylaws without the approval of the Interior Minister. The new law, which chips seriously at the power of local government to legislate, is intended to grandfather the Tel Aviv municipality’s open supermarkets on Shabbat law while in the rest of the cities the Interior Ministry will make sure no such thing ever happens again.

The one area where the Haredim had to capitulate to a higher power was soccer matches on Shabbat. The heads of both Haredi factions agreed to grant a general permit for the industry to desecrate God’s day of rest, ignoring a petition to the Supreme Court by players from several teams who asked to be able to observe their faith without giving up their livelihood. Or, to paraphrase the popular adage, More than Israel kept the Shabbat, Soccer on Shabbat kept the Netanyahu coalition intact.

The approval of this broad, wall-to-wall desecration of the Shabbat in Israel may have been helped by the findings of an inter-ministerial committee, reported a week ago by Walla, which warned that forcing the soccer industry to move its games to weekdays would result in an annual loss of about $7 billion. Also, not being allowed to play on Shabbat and Jewish holidays would harm Israel’s international standing by having to forfeit FIFA games.

On that point, it should be noted that while it has been playing on Shabbat, the Israeli national team—which already lost its chance to play in the 2018 Mondial, has just been demoted by FIFA to the 98th spot, while “Team Palestine” has been moved up to replace Israel at the 82nd spot.


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