Ultra-Orthodox Parties Protest Shabbat Construction Work in Tel Aviv

Engineering project at Hashalom Railway Station necessitates closure of key road artery for 28 hours on Friday evening and Saturday.

An aerial shot of the Hashalom Railway Station and the Ayalon Highway in Tel Aviv.
Eyal Toueg

Leaders of the ultra-Orthodox Knesset factions have sent a strongly worded letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu against construction work at a highway interchange in Tel Aviv, planned for Friday evening and Saturday.

The work, organized several months ago, involves a complex engineering project to expand the city’s Hashalom Railway Station. Because of the need to close the Ayalon Highway’s southbound lanes for the construction, it has been set for this weekend and will continue for 28 hours, until 20:30 on Saturday evening.

However, at the eleventh hour, Shas Chairman Arye Dery, United Torah Judaism Chairman Yaakov Litzman and MK Moshe Gafni (also UTJ) lodged a protest with the prime minister. Before they approached Netanyahu, Transportation and Road Safety Minister Yisrael Katz explained to the ultra-Orthodox leaders that he has been advised he cannot legally interfere with the work on the Sabbath.

He told the lawmakers that the only legal way to prevent the work was to cancel permits given by Social Affairs Minister Haim Katz, who is also in charge of labor affairs. He said the police had strongly warned against doing the work on a weekday, and he advised against asking the prime minister to call for a government decision to cancel the work for reasons not in keeping with professional considerations.

After speaking to Katz, the three politicians wrote Netanyahu: “This work, if it is carried out by the government of Israel that you head, and which publicly desecrates the Sabbath, will be a very harsh precedent and clear infraction of the status quo. This process will lead, de facto, to a trampling of the public Shabbat in the State of Israel, which has not happened since the establishment of the state.”

The three also wrote, “In light of the urgency, and because we cannot bear responsibility of a government that publicly tramples the sanctity of the Sabbath, we ask you to order an immediate directive to be issued postponing the planned work on the holy Sabbath until a meeting can be called with all relevant officials, and the move and its implications be studied.”

The Prime Minister’s Office has not issued a response. The PMO’s new chief of staff, Yoav Horowitz, is holding talks to resolve the crisis, but for now the works are set to go ahead over the weekend.