President Shimon Peres said Sunday that it was a mistake to begin the flow of natural gas from the Tamar gas field to Israel on a Saturday.
After four years in the works, production from the deep-water field, located approximately 90 kilometers off the coast of Haifa in the Mediterranean Sea, began at 4 P.M. on Saturday. An Energy Ministry announcement was also made on Saturday.
During a visit with Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar, Peres hailed Israeli businessman Yitzhak Tshuva for the natural gas drilling projects. But when asked by journalists if it was necessary to begin delivering the gas on Saturday, a decision that caused uproar in the ultra-Orthodox press, he replied, "I believe it wasn't necessary. As simple as that. I don't know why they did it, it was a mistake."
Rabbi Amar echoed Peres' sentiment, expressing hope that business considerations would not supplant the importance of the holy day.
The ultra-Orthodox daily Hamevaser reported on the delivery of the natural gas on Sunday morning and emphasized its opposition to the timing, running the headline, "While blatantly desecrating the Sabbath, first natural gas delivered from Tamar field." The story reported that "to the great sorrow of those who observe the Sabbath," the taps were opened on Saturday, the Jewish day of rest.
Before expressing his displeasure with the decision, Peres hailed Tshuva, the controlling shareholder in Tamar partner Delek Group and even mentioned that he was an "observant" man.
"This is a great achievement, thanks to his vision and steadfastness," Peres said, pointing out the Tshuva found an American company to partner in the drilling when no one else wanted to. "I'm happy that such people exist, and that such a man is active, and I welcome his vision and initiative.
"Now we have assets, but the Jewish people have always preferred values to assets," Peres continued. "These assets should be invested in values, in the study of the Torah, in good deeds, in waging a battle against the social gaps and against poverty."
It has become a habit of President Peres to pay semi-annual visits, in the intermediate days of Sukkot and Passover, to the state's two chief rabbis, Amar and Rabbi Yona Metzger as well as to Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, the spiritual leader of political party Shas, who he also met with Sunday.
Referring to the controversial Haredi draft issue, Yosef told Peres that, "when Israel studies the Torah, God guards the nation and saves it from calamities. All those who hate us, will be pierced by their own swords and their bows shall be broken."
"But for that purpose we need to protect the Torah," Peres replied. "In order to be guarded by the Torah, we must guard the Torah."
The visit to the chief rabbis was supposed to be the last before their retirement. But Peres made clear that he supports the "Amar Bill," an unprecedented move that would extend Amar's term by ten years. The two rabbis' terms have already been extended by several months so the bill can be approved by the Knesset.
"You will be the chief rabbi for many more years," Peres told Amar. "You bring good will to the people of Israel, unity in our hearts and respect for the Torah, and I'm very happy we have a man like you, such a spiritual leader. I know you work for peace, among ourselves and with our neighbors."
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