Tel Aviv's chief rabbi, Yisrael Meir Lau, asked Mayor Ron Huldai on Tuesday to reverse the city council's decision to seek a Transportation Ministry permit to run buses on Shabbat, Ynet reported.
Lau said he was filled with a deep sense of "pain and disappointment" upon learning of the decision and called on Huldai to follow in the footsteps of past mayors who "did not allow the candle of Shabbat to burn out."
The chief rabbi called the decision a "severe blow to the sanctity of Shabbat – a day of spiritual elation and rest for all workers," adding that it also taints the history of Tel Aviv, "which was founded 103 years ago as the first Hebrew city."
Lau said Tel Aviv's prominent figures at the time, such as Hayim Nahman Bialik, Meir Dizengoff and Asher Zvi Hirsch Ginsberg (Ahad Ha'am), worked to "preserve its identity as a city that safeguards the sanctity of Shabbat in the public domain."
The rabbi, who normally avoids addressing controversial issues related to relations between the secular and religious communities, said supporting the operation of public transportation Shabbat violates the status quo "that has been the basis for government policies since the country's inception."
Lau said he plans to turn to the interior and transportation ministers and ask that they do not approve the council's request for a permit "so that Shabbat will be kept in the pubic domain, "as is fitting for a Jewish state."
The rabbis of Tsahar (the acronym for the northern towns of Safed, Hatzor and Rosh Pina) also criticized the decision, and urged the city council to "refrain from causing severe damage to the State of Israel's character without allowing for extensive public debate."
Tsahar head Rabbi David Stav said any decision that affects both religious and secular residents should stem from "public debate and agreement – not from a unilateral initiative."
"It is important to remember that despite its image, most of Tel Aviv's residents are traditional Jews who hold the Sabbath dear to their hearts," he said.
"Furthermore, many seculars yearn for the calm atmosphere on Shabbat," the rabbi added.
Knesset Member Uri Orbach (Habayit Hayehudi) said that before seeking public transportation on Shabbat, Mayor Huldai should "first make sure there is adequate public transportation in Tel Aviv on weekdays."