Wary of Impact on Shabbat, ultra-Orthodox Minister Puts Brakes on Mosque Noise Bill

Bill to stop mosques from using loudspeakers for prayer call was slated for vote, but Minister Litzman fears it would also harm Jewish religious activity.

A mosque in Jaffa.
A mosque in Jaffa. Moshe Gilad

A bill to stop mosques from using loudspeakers to broadcast the call to prayer has been put on hold after a cabinet minister appealed the coalition’s decision to support it. As a result, the bill will not be brought to the Knesset for a vote on Wednesday as planned.

Health Minister Yaakov Litzman (United Torah Judaism) appealed the bill because he feared it would also harm Jewish religious activity, such as the use of sirens in certain cities to announce the beginning of Shabbat. Though the bill was drafted primarily in response to the loud volume of the call to prayer broadcast from many mosques, it would prevent all religious institutions from using loudspeakers.

The bill will now be on hold until the Ministerial Committee for Legislation holds a second vote on its decision that the governing coalition should back the motion.

“For thousands of years, the Jewish tradition has used various tools, including shofars and trumpets,” to announce the start of Shabbat, Litzman wrote in his appeal. “Since the technology developed, loudspeakers have been used to announce the onset of Shabbat, at the permitted volume level, and in compliance with every law.”

Consequently, he said, the bill would undermine a religious status quo that has existed for decades.

Both UTJ and Shas, its fellow ultra-Orthodox party, considered filing the appeal, but UTJ is the one that ultimately did so.

Opponents of the bill had identified Litzman as the weak link in the coalition’s support for it, and throughout the day on Tuesday, Arab lawmakers urged him to thwart its passage.

“As a God-fearing man who observes the religious commandments and represents a religious community, I’m certain this issue is dear to your heart,” wrote MK Esawi Freige (Meretz) in a letter appealing to Litzman to intervene. “The right to religious practice is a fundamental right for everyone. Noise problems shouldn’t be solved by legislation.”

The bill was originally sponsored by MK Moti Yogev (Habayit Hayehudi) and later cosponsored by several MKs from his own party, Likud and Kulanu. It was first submitted about a year and a half ago, but after legal advisors deemed it problematic, it was redrafted.

The original bill said its purpose was to prevent the broadcast of religious and nationalist messages or incitement via loudspeakers installed in houses of worship, a clause that was removed from the latest version. Although the bill applies to all religions, Yogev said explicitly that mosques were his main target.

“Our intention isn’t to undermine freedom of religion, but to prevent sleep disruptions among that majority of citizens harmed by the muezzin’s call – tired students in their classrooms, including in the Arab community; tired drivers behind the wheel; babies woken from their sleep,” he said.

Meanwhile, any Israeli decision on Jerusalem’s holy places, including the prohibition against using a loudspeaker to broadcast the muezzin’s call from a mosque, should be considered null and void, a senior Jordanian official said yesterday.

Abdallah Alabadi, senior assistant to the director general of the Jordanian Ministry of Awqaf Islamic Affairs and Holy Places, said that according to international law an occupying power has no right to make changes that have historical implications for a city it occupies. Therefore any Israeli decision about East Jerusalem was null and void because it is occupied based on international law.

Alabadi said the muezzin’s voice has been heard in Jerusalem since the beginning of Islam and  would remain so until Judgement Day