Tens of Thousands of ultra-Orthodox Protest Shabbat Rail Work

The Metropolitan Mass Transit System argued that if their work did not continue over Shabbat, there was a risk that the tunnel dug so far, 30 meters underground, could collapse

An ultra-orthodox demonstration in Bnei Brak protesting light rail work, on September 22, 2018.
Ofer Vaknin

Tens of thousands of ultra-Orthodox Jews protested in the Tel Aviv suburb of Bnei Brak Friday night after a court allowed work on the light-rail on the Sabbath.

The Tel Aviv District Court ruled earlier Friday that essential work could take place on Shabbat if not carrying it out might endanger human life. Above-ground work must be concealed from sight, it added.

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Police said some protesters were stopped while trying to trespass on the work site, near Highway 4.

The court was ruling on an appeal of an order prohibiting work on the light-rail on Shabbat.

On Thursday night, the court issued a stop-work order barring Metropolitan Mass Transit System — NTA from working in Bnei Brak on Shabbat. The order was requested by the municipality of the predominantly ultra-Orthodox city.

NTA told the court Friday that suspending the excavation work would constitute “a real danger to life and property.” Danya Cebus, the company carrying out the work, joined the request.

They told the court that if the work did not continue over Shabbat, there was a risk that the tunnel dug so far, 30 meters underground, could collapse, endangering the safety of workers at and near the site as well as buildings lining Jabotinsky Street, a main traffic and commercial artery.

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The tunnel-excavation machinery has been working for the past few days in Petah Tikva. Neta’s representatives said the before the work reached Bnei Brak the plans were shown to the mayor and he was informed that the work could not stop for the Sabbath. However, Neta said that the municipality had put heavy pressure on the contractors including Danya Cebus. Neta told the court that work on Saturdays and holidays was being done “by foreign crews only.” Neta’s request to the court also detailed efforts it was making to minimize work on the Sabbath.

In a related issue, last month Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz ordered the suspension of Shabbat work on a new pedestrian bridge over the Ayalon Highway in Tel Aviv, in the wake of pressure from Haredi Knesset members.

Katz ordered the city to submit an alternative proposal for completing the bridge as soon as possible.

The Yehudit Bridge was to have been built over six weekends in the coming months. The first stage of the work was to have taken place on August 31. Katz said in his statement that the plans for construction of the bridge in its present form “could cause severe and disproportionate damage to the entire public on the weekends.”

Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman said he welcomed Katz’s decision and that Katz had “shown public responsibility and prevented unnecessary harm to the status quo and Jewish tradition.”