Israeli ultra-Orthodox Minister Resigns From Cabinet Over Shabbat Crisis

Interior Minister Arye Dery skips cabinet meeting amid pressure to quit over dispute between his Shas party and Netanyahu, following Health Minister Litzman's resignation

Health Minister Yaakov Litzman, November 26, 2017.
Emil Salman

Health Minister Yaakov Litzman handed in his resignation to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday over a dispute regarding railroad maintenance on Shabbat. Shas Chairman and Interior Minister Arye Dery was absent from Sunday's cabinet meeting, in protest against a bill that would allow some supermarkets to open on Shabbat. 

Litzman, who is also chairman of the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism party, cited pressure from the rabbinical leader of the Gur Hasidic sect on Friday as an impetus for this move.

"In every generation we have known that we keep the Sabbath, this is the covenant between the Jewish people and God," Litzman said. "Unfortunately, Israel Railways has turned Shabbat into national maintenance day. Unnecessary work. The fact that there are trains in every country in the world and they manage to complete maintenance work is proof that it's possible."

Netanyahu responded to these events on Sunday's cabinet meeting, saying that he is sorry that Litzman decided to resign, calling him "an excellent health minister," and added that he believes that the current government led by Likkud is "the best for the State of Israel, and that all coalition partners are interested in its continued existence." He further added that the government is working toward a solution.

Netanyahu officially notified Likud ministers that he will hold the portfolio of health minister.

Health Minister Litzman announces his resignation (Hebrew) Health Ministry Spokesperson

Interior Minister Arye Dery, the leader of Shas, refused to attend the cabinet meeting on Sunday, in protest of the current version of a bill that would allow some supermarkets to open on Shabbat. Dery, who is also under pressure to resign over issues regarding work on Shabbat, proposed an alternative text for the bill.

Labor, Social Affairs and Social Service Minister Yisrael Katz's office released a statement insisting that the approved work on the railways was necessary for pikuach nefesh (preservation of life), and as such should be legally permissible on Shabbat.

The political crisis within the coalition was sparked last week after Israel Railways planned essential work on the rail system around the country over Shabbat. The company warned that if the work was not carried out, it would cause a complete shutdown of the country's train network the following week.

Netanyahu and ultra-Orthodox coalition representatives met last week to work out a deal, to no avail.