Bennett: We've Stepped Up Enforcing Sabbath as Rest Day

But bill compensating workers for 7-day week would just give employers an out, minister explains its rejection.

The Economy Ministry has stepped up its supervision of employees who are required to work on the Sabbath, Economy Minister Naftali Bennett told the Knesset yesterday.

Bennett's comments were made in the course of remarks explaining why the government was opposed to an opposition-sponsored bill that would have provided monetary compensation to workers who don't get at least one day off during the week. The Knesset then voted the bill down on preliminary reading.

Bennett, who is the leader of the Habayit Hayehudi party, said it was not by chance that the Almighty created Shabbat. "Human beings need rest," he said. "We will not accept a situation in Israel in which people work seven days a week," he said, noting that the law requires that workers be given a day of rest. "Recently we have begun to step up enforcement of the matter dramatically."

"Your intensions are good," the minister told the bill's proponents, but he said the approach would in practice produce the opposite of what it is intended to achieve. It would give employers an incentive to require employees to work on the Sabbath, because they would know that they have the option to do so for an additional payment.

Labor Party MK Miki Rosenthal, who sponsored the bill, countered: "The results of an Economy Ministry study show that 57 percent of people employed on the Sabbath day of rest don't get an alternative day off at all. We want those who have to work seven days a week to at least get compensation," he said.

Also yesterday, the Knesset gave preliminary assent to a bill that would authorize city rabbis to recognize the conversions done by conversion courts that would be set up in the municipal jurisdictions that the rabbis serve. Ultra-Orthodox parties oppose it.

"Support for this law means eliminating conversion, transforming conversion into a laughingstock," MK Moshe Gafni of the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism said. The bill's sponsor, Elazar Stern of Hatnuah, said the law would in fact strengthen the state system of conversion. "The law is designed to allow those who desire to do so to choose the panel that is to be a partner in such a significant process that they are undergoing." The bill advanced with 45 MKs in favor and 16 against. It will need three more rounds of voting to become law.

The Knesset also gave preliminary assent to a bill that would give the courts the authority to waive the requirement that Jewish parents who are adopting a non-Jewish child demonstrate that they lead an observant lifestyle. The bill would give the court approving the adoption the right to prefer the best interests of the child over religious considerations in the adoption process.

Under current law, Jewish parents who adopt a non-Jewish child in Israel are supposed to convert the child to Judaism through a special rabbinical court under the auspices of the rabbinate. The conversion becomes official only after a probation period set by the rabbinate, and the adoption does not become final until the conversion is completed.

Olivier Pittousi