The Knesset Labor, Welfare and Health Committee on Tuesday approved sending a second and third (final) readings in the plenum an amendment to Israel’s Hours of Work and Rest Law, stipulating that before issuing work permits for Shabbat, the Minister of Labor, Social Affairs and Social Services will be required to take into account the “traditions of Israel,” meaning Jewish halacha.
Under the government-sponsored bill, which was merged with private bills submitted by MKs Moshe Gafni (UTJ), Uri Maklev (UTJ), Yakov Asher (UTJ) and other lawmakers, the Labor Minister must define what work is permitted to take place on Shabbat, based on a number of criteria, including the workers’ needs, Jewish halacha, alternative solutions which would not require employing workers on Shabbat, as well as the level of harm caused to the public arena when work permits for Shabbat work are granted.
Eight coalition committee members voted in favor of the legislation, while four opposition members voted against it.
During the debate which preceded the vote, MK Israel Eichler (UTJ) said the director general of the Ministry of Labor, Social Affairs and Social Services had told him that currently the minister does not have the authority to take halchic considerations into account before issuing permits to work on Shabbat, since the existing law lacks a clause to this effect.
MK Eichler further noted that the High Court of Justice had ruled that the minister may only take technical and economic considerations into account and he is forbidden from making halachic considerations.
MK Ilan Gilon (Meretz) said, “We can’t ignore the needs of soldiers and civilians and conduct [construction] works on Sundays. This is not the tradition of Israel and nor love for Israel. If God is watching this, he understands that this consideration must be taken into account.
Labor Committee Chairman MK Elie Elalouf (Kulanu) said, “Taking into account considerations related to Israel’s tradition is a basic thing and has nothing to do with religion. It is awful that whenever a debate is held on a Jewish issue, a ‘war’ erupts in the Knesset.”
The bill’s explanatory portion states that the prohibition on employing workers on Shabbat has two purposes: the social goal of enabling workers to relax; and the national and religious imperative of establishing Shabbat as a day of rest in accordance with the State of Israel’s character as a Jewish state.