The Haredi Attempt to Poke the Free Citizens of Tel Aviv Right in the Eye

No one is keeping the ultra-Orthodox from observing Shabbat as they see fit in their neighborhoods. So why should they try to impose a curfew on the rest of the country?

Nehemia Shtrasler
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Bicycle riders on the Tel Aviv boardwalk. Credit: Nir Kafri
Nehemia Shtrasler

It’s a little tough to work out what Economy Minister and Shas Chairman Arye Dery really wants. One day he’s reported drawing up a big plan to close all the kiosks and groceries in Tel Aviv on Shabbat. Then in an interview he says it’s up to the religiously nonobservant to determine the kind of Shabbat they want. So whom to believe? Dery 1 or Dery 2? In any event, I’m very worried.

We know there are religious and ultra-Orthodox Jews who want to poke the free citizens of Tel Aviv right in the eye. They want to close it down, so that if you need milk or bread over the Sabbath you’ll be forced to travel to the edge of the city or to an expensive gas-station convenience store (and that only if you own a car, in which case you will doubly “desecrate” Shabbat).

That also the plan of the directors general committee that is expected shortly to submit its recommendations on the issue to the cabinet matter. These are terrible, disgraceful recommendations that would crudely interfere in the liberal character of the city, so moderate, tolerant and accepting of differences. A city that has forged good relations among free-thinking, religious and Haredi Jews, from Rothschild Boulevard to Shikun Bavli.

The three alternatives proposed by the committee are variations on religious coercion. No wonder, since it is headed by Prime Minister’s Office Director General Eli Groner, who serves the position of his boss — who only a week ago capitulated big-time to the Haredim over the railway work on Shabbat. After all, staying in office is more important.

This bizarre did not start with Dery, nor with the directors general committee. It began about two years ago, with then-Interior Minister Gideon Sa’ar. One fine day Sa’ar saw the light and began to observe Shabbat. That’s fine. It’s his right. But why should that affect everyone else in Tel Aviv? He could have packed up and moved to Mea She’arim. But instead Sa’ar issued draconian regulations closing all businesses in Tel Aviv on Shabbat, including kiosks and mini-marts. Typical behavior for a willful sinner who became an overzealous convert.

It was also an infuriating and arrogant move by someone who lacks a comprehension of democracy. But it seems there is a God: Just before Sa’ar’s plan was due to be implemented, he resigned and disappeared.

At around the same time, Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai proposed a compromise on the issue and petitioned the High Court of Justice over it. Fortunately for us, it was rejected. The proposal was a bad one. Not a “compromise,” but rather an embarrassing surrender. It would reduce to 164, from 238, the number of stores that open on Shabbat, a decline of 30 percent! Why should the mayor, who was elected on his promise of operating public transportation and keeping businesses open on Shabbat, injure the residents of his city in this manner?

The correct position should be unequivocal: No compromise with anyone who comes to do harm. There should be no acceptance of the committee’s proposals or Dery 1’s proposals or Huldai’s proposal.

It’s also maddening to see that the Interior Ministry accepts the Bnei Brak bylaws that prohibit the opening of businesses and restaurants on Shabbat, extending this even to secular Pardes Katz, but meanwhile fights against the opposite wishes of Tel Aviv residents.

Are the values of the Haredim superior to the values of Tel Avivians? Are the values of humanism, pluralism, tolerance, truth-telling, observing the law, doing good, respecting human dignity, caring for the environment and working for a living less worthy?

No one is keeping the Haredim from observing Shabbat as they see fit in their neighborhoods. So why should they try to impose a Shabbat curfew on the rest of the country, by stopping public transportation and closing businesses? Who said that going to the theater or the movies or a lecture or shopping or hiking or to the beach with friends is less worthy than going to synagogue? They might as well also try to impose a halt to all English and math studies and have everyone learn nothing but Talmud.