Interior Minister Eli Yishai has ordered his ministry's computer department to reprogram its online payment service so that people will no longer be able to pay the ministry over the Internet on Shabbat and Jewish holidays.
The ministry accepts online payments for a wide variety of services, including renewing a passport or visa, replacing a lost identity card and applying for a permit to hire a foreign worker. Until Yishai issued his new directive last week, such payments could be made seven days a week.
Rabbi Uri Regev, director of Hiddush - For Religious Freedom and Equality, said that if the website operates automatically, with no need for ministry personnel to be working during those hours, "I don't see any reason why it shouldn't be available to the public throughout the week. There is no place for this paternalism by the interior minister regarding when people choose to use it.
"On the other hand," he added, "if it required maintenance or follow-up by [ministry] employees at the time the service is provided, then I could see logic" in accepting payments only during hours when government offices are normally open.
Assaf Zentner, a high-tech worker who typically works very long hours, said he resents the new policy. "People who work hard throughout the week rely on the weekend to take care of [personal] business, and the Internet is part of this," he said, accusing Yishai of being "stuck in the Middle Ages."
Liat Azarya, who also said she relied on weekends to tend to such tasks, termed the decision "pure [religious] coercion."
"If we were causing someone to work I'd understand it," she said. "But that's precisely why the Internet is good for this purpose."
Yishai is not the first to introduce this prohibition: The National Insurance Institute website also does not accept payments on Shabbat and Jewish holidays.
But after this fact was published in Haaretz Magazine, NII officials reconsidered the policy and recently announced that the site would start accepting payments on Shabbat and holidays next month, after the current set of holidays ends.