Tel Aviv Chief Rabbi Calls on Mayor to Reverse Decision to Run Buses on Shabbat

Rabbi Yisrael Lau says he felt 'deep disappointment and pain' upon hearing of the city council's decision on Monday to request government approval to operate public transportation on weekends.

Tel Aviv Chief Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau issued a harsh response on Tuesday to the city council's decision to allow public transportation to operate on Shabbat. The council's decision was decided by a majority vote on Monday.

In a letter published on Tuesday morning, Lau wrote that he was "filled with a feeling of deep disappointment and pain" upon hearing of the council's decision, and called on Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai and the ministers of transportation and the interior to cancel it.

buses - Daniel Bar-On - 14072011
Daniel Bar-On

"This is a severe blow to the holiness of the Shabbat, which is a remnant of Creation, a reminder of the Exodus from Egypt, a day of rest for every worker and a day of spiritual ascension and the unity of the family," he added.

Lau noted that the founders of Tel Aviv, which is known as the "first Hebrew city," made significant efforts to ensure that Shabbat would be publicly observed and that the decision harmed the existing status quo in Israel.

Among Israeli cities, only Haifa and Eilat are currently allowed to operate public transportation on Shabbat, the Jewish day of rest.

Tel Aviv transportation authority head Moshe Tiomkin said on Tuesday that, despite the council's decision, he did not expect the move to succeed.

"There is no connection between the headlines and reality," Tiomkin said. "The decision was to hold a discussion on the matter in the city management [committee] only and no more than that," referring to a senior decision-making forum at city hall.

The motion to allow public transportation to operate in the city on Shabbat was submitted by council member Tamar Zandberg (Meretz), in coordination with Israel Hofshit (known in English as Be Free Israel), a group that promotes pluralism and freedom of religion in Israel.

The move is expected to win the approval of the city's management committee, as it is supported by Mayor Huldai. If approved, a request would be submitted to the Transportation Ministry.

The Transportation Ministry issued a statement in response, saying, "There is a decades-old status quo regarding operation of public transportation on Shabbat, and the Transportation Ministry does not intend to violate it."

The motion approved by the city council includes alternative arrangements, such as operating municipal shuttles, in the event that the ministry rejects the request.

The struggle for public transportation on Shabbat began to gather steam last summer, but was pushed aside by the social justice protests. The issue returned to the headlines last week when Israel Hofshit launched a nationwide publicity campaign in which volunteers were photographed standing at bus stops around the country holding signs saying "Waiting for the bus on Shabbat."

Read this article in Hebrew