Shabbat Legislation: Pro and Con

Two Opinions by Fellows of the Gesher Leadership Course

Pro: Bezalel Kahn

Gesher Leadership Course Fellow, a member of the first cycle of the Leadership Course for Communications personnel. News and Program Director at the Haredi Radio Station “Kol Chai”

The law was proposed by Likud MK Mickey Zohar, it is an important law from a number of perspectives, but it also contains a less positive aspect.

We will begin by saying the at last that there is an MK who does not wear any kind of kippah, who understands that the State of Israel is first and foremost a Jewish state.  There is no more significant symbol of Judaism than Shabbat.

Therefore this proposed legislation should be applauded, for it will erect a clear warning sign for all those that forget that we are in a Jewish state, and the Shabbat guards us more than anything else.  As the saying goes: “More than the Jews have kept the Sabbath, the Sabbath has kept the Jews.”

This law also has a social aspect, important in and of itself, in the free-for-all of employing Jewish workers on Shabbat, at the expense of their day of rest and at the expense of those employers who do close their businesses on Shabbat.   It cannot be that one business owner will want to keep Shabbat and the other opens his grocery and causes the first financial harm.  On the other hand, it is not clear why kiosks, restaurants and theatres are not included in this proposal.

But there is a good reason why this law has been proposed by an MK who is not Haredi.

A Sabbath-observer cannot propose or support a proposal whose content is important, but has a small stinger attached to it:  the approval of public transportation for example, or similar “goodies” for the secular population of the Jewish state.  It is impossible and prohibited to turn Shabbat into a commodity, and say: you support our principles and we will give you this or that “candy.”  Either (one accepts) complete Sabbath observance or…that’s all, there is no either-or, the time has come to stop playing with the holy Shabbat in the Jewish state.

By the way, in the above I did not relate to the question that many struggle with: is it at all appropriate to endorse religious legislation of this type?   In my opinion, if Shabbat-observers are strict and strengthen their observance, then the pleasantness and blessings of Shabbat will have an impact on those who do not observe, for Shabbat is the source of all blessings.

Con: Dr. Hila David

Gesher Leadership Course Fellow in the second cycle of the Gesharim Leadership Course.  Director of the “Culture Basket” Initiative in Rishon Letzion.  Member of the directorate of Keren Sapir, member of Israeli Council for Culture and the Arts.

The Shabbat Law as proposed by MK Miki Zohar does not contribute to promoting understanding between religious and secular Jews.  The law, which penalizes businesses open on Shabbat three times the day’s proceeds, not only does not promote outreach and unity between different groups of people, but it encourages separation and succeeds to arouse anger and rebellion against religious coercion.

Establishing norms by means of legislation is meant to help the wider public adapt proper and acceptable behaviors.  In this case MK Zohar agrees that the law is intended to help businessmen preserve their day of rest and it is even supported by the Grocers’ Forum.  It is highly unlikely, therefore, that the law would assist the wider public and would be acceptable to them. MK Zohar says that in recent years a situation has been created whereby a person who wants to observe his Jewish faith in this country finds it difficult to do so, and that his goal is to enable everyone to keep their Shabbat. In reality the law achieves the opposite and will harm the current status quo and the fragile relationship between the secular and religious, according to which each group can observe its Shabbat according to the way its sees fit, its understanding and the way it desires.

In this case, interfering by means of legislation will not promote understanding and consideration between the groups and will not resolve the real social problem, but is only an populistic attempt to gain recognition through a dangerous and coarse foothold.  The meaning of Shabbat as the day of rest is understood differently by each subgroup, person and sector and is not to be arbitrarily determined by the members of the Knesset by means of legislation.  Instead of promoting this law, it would be better for a member of the Knesset to encourage meaningful discussion, and promote initiatives to create a meeting of minds that would emphasize that which brings the various groups of people together and encourage activities to bridge the gaps and not accentuate that which separates us.

הילה דוד

ד"ר הילה דוד, מנהלת סל תרבות עירוני ראשון לציון לשעבר.

Betzalel Cahan

Director of Programming and News at “Kol Chai” Radio

Following the suicide of Esty Weinstein

Statement by Gesher Leadership course Fellow Michal Prince

In the past week we have dealt with analyzing every detail in the life of a woman who was anonymous until a week ago.  We scrutinized the personal, family, and social causes that caused her to take the most awful step.  We go back and forth, at one point accusing the society in which she was raised, her daughters who cut off contact with her and then we immediately turn to the woman herself who did not find the strength to cope and took her own life.

Then we moved to a broader discussion of Haredi society, all aspects of freedom of choice, loss, and community responsibility.  No one is free from criticism.  Everyone is to blame. Those who did not enable and those who did not see.

Enough already.

Enough with investigating the stories in general terms.  Stop speaking about them and us.  And it makes no difference which side ‘we’ are on.  Here is a tragedy that we all have to learn from, to listen to it, to give it some space. It touches upon matters that we all understand and can identify with—motherhood, family, community, religion, and choice.  There is no one who is responsible for what happened and but at the same time we all have the responsibility to stop and think about our part.

The time has come to learn how to listen to the individual.  To give him a place.  To listen to his story and read between the lines.  Living in the society in which she was raised was difficult for this woman, she chose how to live and she chose how to die. We have to listen and ask tough questions but we cannot forget the other who found this place to be a home, protection, and faith. Let us listen to her as well.

When we can listen to everyone's story, then something will happen, something will touch us and change.

Unfortunately we live in an imaginary world where someone else tells others our story.  We have one perception of a Haredi woman, a settler woman, and a secular woman and this story falls into this world of preconceptions and fulfills all the hackneyed media stereotypes.

Our responsibility is to transform the imaginary woman into a real one.  To clean and do away with the mask of smoke and alienation and let a person pierce our armor.  We do not have the ability to change Haredi society or secular society for that matter (and I for one want to change neither of them) but, we do have the power to turn individuals into people who are seen and heard, and maybe even into friends to whom we can extend a hand before the worst occurs…

Michal Prins

Michal is CEO of Yahel Center, specializing in sexuality in religious women. She recently rejoined the IDF reserves as a Mental Health Officer in the Jerusalem IDF induction center.