American Jews Assimilated Because They Work on Shabbat, Charges Israeli Lawmaker

Millions of Diaspora Jews lost connection with Judaism because they were forced to work on the Sabbath after emigrating to U.S., claims ultra-Orthodox MK Israel Eichler

MK Israel Eichler in the Knesset, May 2015.
Olivier Fitoussi

An ultra-Orthodox member of the Israeli governing coalition has claimed that millions of American Jews assimilated because they were “cut off” from their religion as a result of being "forced" to work on the Shabbat.

MK Israel Eichler (United Torah Judaism) warned that Israel will suffer the same fate it it doesn’t reimpose strict Shabbat closing laws for stores.

Eichler said that if Saturday commerce is permitted in any form, “People who won’t work on Shabbat won’t be able to get a job – just like it was in America in the years of the great immigration. Millions of Jews emigrated from Europe to America, couldn’t make a living without working on Shabbat, and as a result their children and grandchildren have assimilated.”

In Eichler’s version of American-Jewish history, during waves of Jewish immigration to the United States at the turn of the 20th century, “Immigrants knew that if they get to America and don’t work on Shabbat, they can’t make a living – and that’s how millions of Jews were cut off” and lost, he said.

Today, he added, “millions of Jews there have assimilated. The only Diaspora Jews who remain with any connection to the Land of Israel and/or Judaism are the ones who kept the Sabbath.”

Eichler was being interviewed about the so-called grocery store law, in which every new municipal bylaw concerning opening stores or entertainment sites on the Sabbath would require state approval. If religious parties retain power in the governing coalition, as they currently do, it would essentially prevent any city from permitting stores to remain open on Shabbat.

The proposal comes after the High Court of Justice ruled in favor of Tel Aviv in October and refused to cancel a local bylaw that permitted 164 grocery stores, mini-marts and other businesses to remain open in the city on the official day of rest, forcing the government to accept the status quo there.

If passed, the new law would not reverse the situation in Tel Aviv, but would satisfy the ultra-Orthodox parties’ desire to prevent future bylaws allowing commerce in other cities on Saturdays.

Eichler said any compromise that involves stores or commerce occurring on Saturdays, like the “Reform” High Court decision had, was unacceptable. “The struggle against Shabbat is destroying Israel,” he declared.

As a solution for secular Israelis who want free time in which they are able to shop, Eichler pointed to proposals to make Sunday a day off.

“Let’s make Sunday a shopping day. Let’s have a five-day workweek like the rest of the world and do our shopping on Sunday, like they do in the U.S.,” he suggested.

Eichler has a history of provocative statements denigrating non-Orthodox Jews. In 2016, he compared Reform Jews to the mentally ill, causing an outcry against what some American-Jewish leaders called “hate speech” and “extreme intolerance.”