Trains in Israel Should Run on Shabbat

Haaretz Editorial
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The Allenby Street station of Tel Aviv's future light rail system.
Haaretz Editorial

After Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai announced that the light rail will have to operate on Saturdays too, ultra-Orthodox leaders and religious institutions hastened to correct him. They asserted that the light rail is not a horizontal Shabbat elevator, because it transports people from one place to another and thereby violates Shabbat restrictions and breaches the status quo.

This groundless Haredi dictate must be rejected. Not only is a minority coercing the rest of Israel’s citizens to stay home on Shabbat or to keep a private car, but the cost of the light rail is 18 billion shekels ($5.6 billion) for a single line. There’s no justification for such a tremendous expense if it doesn’t operate seven days a week.

Also, the entire Tel Aviv area rapid transit system, aka the Metro, is expected to cost 180 billion shekels and no civilized state mounts such an important national project only to have it paralyzed on weekends. This dictate is economically and socially unreasonable – the right of movement is a basic one and cannot be denied any longer on weekends.

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Nor should the fact that the light rail passes in ultra-Orthodox Bnei Brak’s area make any difference. If the city’s residents aren’t interested in using it, that’s their right. But Israel is becoming one of the most overpopulated countries in the developed world, as is clearly reflected in the massive traffic jams.

To alleviate this density there’s an urgent need for an overall shift to mass transportation. This is why the Knesset is now preparing to pass the Metro bill, the largest project in the state’s history. It’s clear to all that the Metro is a strategic imperative, but failing to operate it on weekends will be a grave error that will severely impair its efficiency.

The status quo regarding public transportation on weekends made no sense when Israel’s population was 2.5 million. It makes far less sense now, when the population has multiplied and the roads are clogged. This historic arrangement must be changed.

A train is indeed not a horizontal Sabbath elevator – it’s a basic transit method in every modern state, and it must run seven days a week. With or without the Haredim’s consent.

The above article is Haaretz's lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.

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