The new bid proposes amending the laws prohibiting public transportation on Shabbat, and seeks to differentiate between activities that should be allowed on the holy day of rest - namely recreation, entertainment, culture and public transportation - and activities that should remain prohibited, like governmental activities.
The new bill, put forward by Knesset Members Gilad Erdan (Likud), Ze’ev Elkin (Kadima) and Elhanan Glazer (Social Justice for Pensioners) asserts that public transportation should operate on Shabbat under special limitations.
Moreover, in order to avoid damaging the religious tone of the day, buses would not be allowed to travel through neighborhoods or communities with a significant religious majority.
The bill states that “the freedom of movement must not be harmed on Shabbat,” and for this reason operating means of public transportation will be permitted.
Currently, public transportation on Shabbat is allowed only under special circumstances - such as bus lines destined for hospitals. Haifa, the most well-known exception to the Shabbat rule, however limited, has buses running on Shabbat.
It should be noted that similar proposals have been put forward in the past, but none of them resulted in actual legislation. Religious parties oppose alterations to the status quo, claiming that changing the existing situation will undermine the Jewish character of the State of Israel.
‘A compromise can be reached’
In a conversation with Ynet on Thursday, MK Erdan said that in his opinion, the Israeli public supports the operation of public transportation on Shabbat.
“I think that most of the public is ready to honor others’ right to live their lives, as long as it doesn’t affect anyone else. Amongst the religious, you can find support for such a move, for instance in the national-religious public,” said Erdan.
He also explained that in order to avoid damaging Israel’s Jewish identity, the bill must enforce limitations on the operation of public transportation. “You see, what bothers the ultra-Orthodox? Public domain, they want Shabbat to be different than weekdays,” said Erdan.
“We also want this, and we can reach a compromise. For instance, in places in which a predominantly religious population lives, we don’t need to operate public transportation. We can also conclude that since it is not a work day, the frequency will be much lower. But there has to be permanent public transportation, so the public knows it has an alternative.”
Erdan believes that running public transportation on Shabbat is very socially significant since it will serve the weak populations and the periphery. “We need to provide a social answer for people who don’t have money, who can’t by a car and travel from one place to another or visit their families on Shabbat.”
Buses in Tel Aviv - on Shabbat too? (Photo: Yaron Brener)
Erdan noted that usage of public transportation on Shabbat also entails ecological and safety benefits. Using buses or trains will decrease the number of private vehicles on the road - there will be fewer accidents and less pollution.
In a discussion conducted in the Economic Affairs Committee a month ago regarding operating the Dan Bus Company’s bus lines in Tel Aviv prior to Shabbat’s end, a heated argument ensued between Knesset members siding with maintaining the status quo and MKs who feel that it must be altered.
Naturally, those opposed to changing the status quo were members from the religious parties. MK Nissan Slomiansky claimed that a change in the present situation must not be permitted.
Because Shabbat is one of the clear expressions of the country’s Jewishness, “the expression of the country’s Jewish character is being reduced, aside from Gitin and Girushin (Jewish divorce), mainly to Shabbat.
“After many discussions it was determined that the so-called sacred status quo determining the arrangement that an individual can drive on Shabbat and that the country and public institutions will not drive on Shabbat, except for Haifa…in reality a status quo was set that concluded that no public transportation will be used on Shabbat and that is honorable.”
MK Moshe Gafni (United Torah Judaism) presented another argument dealing with social and societal issues.
“If we accept the approach that we need to operate public transportation on Shabbat, this will cause a chain effect in which whoever does not want to be a servant and work seven days a week, won’t be accepted to work or will receive a lower salary and won’t be able to sit with their family on Shabbat or on another day…I am not talking from a religious perspective, which is another story.
"My friends told me this is a Jewish country,” he said.
Gafni also noted that it is acceptable to reassess the current situation in Haifa.
“I checked the public transportation situation in Haifa a few times already, where it operates on Shabbat because of this stupid status quo and I say ‘stupid’ because it is only for the seculars. If you would allow Egged to do what it wants, it would close its lines on Shabbat.”