Be'er Sheva's city council on Wednesday discussed a proposal by Orthodox councilmen to close the city's popular cultural center on the Sabbath. Closure would mean ending the city's popular Saturday events there, featuring interviews with national politicians and public figures and other activities.
City Councilman Ya'akov Ohayon, who presented the motion to the council, said the national lottery had funded construction of the building to benefit all the public, no matter what their religious practice. However, the city's chief rabbi, Yehuda Deri, had issued a ruling that no one should take part in or host events at the cultural center because it desecrates the Sabbath, he said. Therefore, he proposed "closing the building on the Sabbath so everyone can enjoy it."
Every three weeks the center fills to standing room only to hear the Saturday speakers, frequently politicians who reveal scandals and secrets that are quickly picked up by the national media.
Among the memorable speakers was former Israel Defense Forces chief of staff Dan Halutz, who chose the Be'er Sheva Saturday program to break his silence after the Second Lebanon War.
Years ago, after current Minister Yossi Peled spoke about a war brewing up north, then-prime minister Ehud Barak had to calm the White House and Israel Air Force planes were scrambled, because Hezbollah was on the move after Peled's remarks.
Israel's first astronaut, the late Ilan Ramon, came straight from his training in the United Sates to the stage at the Be'er Sheva cultural center for a rare interview just months before his death.
Rabbi Deri said: "I warned the current mayor that the place is in the heart of residential neighborhoods, and the public activity bothers Orthodox residents." Deri said there were discussions a few months ago that Sabbath activities at the cultural center would be conducted quietly and not publicly, "and few months ago signs went up in the streets, not even modest ones, about the Sabbath cultural events."
Deri said the signs were the last straw, and that city councilmen had come to him and asked for a ruling. "I advised them to keep the Sabbath, and now a situation has been created that because of public Sabbath desecration, the Orthodox residents of the city cannot enjoy the center and they must not go there."
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