The fake Shabbat crisis
Op-ed: If the coalition components—including those who speak so eloquently on Shabbat’s behalf—cared about the Jewish day of rest, they would have worked to reach agreements on its actual nature in our public space. But this is a debate they are so afraid of, they won’t even touch it with a stick.
This applies to the recent Shabbat crisis too. It’s a crisis over nothing, neither over the sanctity of Shabbat nor over the sanctity of the coalition. There’s just one noticeable difference: While Talmudic quibbling helps sharpen one’s brains, political quibbling helps in its deterioration.
The crisis ended Sunday evening without any results. The short summary is filled with words but practically empty of meaning. The Haredim found out they live in a secular state where governmental bodies desecrate Shabbat on a regular basis, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Likud members read polls and remembered the limitations of political power. And what about Shabbat? It’s already used to having people talk on its behalf.
The essence of nothing in the crisis that just ended is the announcement of a law that will allow the labor minister to take a series of important considerations into account. The list is impressive: Considerations pertaining to the worker’s safety and welfare, considerations that have to do with the extent of damage to the public space, including Jewish tradition considerations. It’s as if, until now, the labor minister was forbidden to consider any of these components. Here comes the law and helps a minister who has been busy negotiating with Shabbat. In other words, it’s a “there was nothing because there is nothing” kind of law.
If the coalition components—including those who speak so eloquently on Shabbat’s behalf—cared about the day of rest, they would have decided to create agreements on its actual nature in our public space. They would have sat down, discussed the issue and finally made decisions. This is a very strange process in political language. A debate they are so afraid of, they won’t even touch it with a stick.
The most serious document that has been written so far is the Gavison-Medan Covenant. The secular law professor and the Gush Etzion rabbi teamed up in 2000 and issued a pivotal document about state-religion relations in Israel. Had this been a real Shabbat crisis, this would have been its solution.
What the covenant’s authors realized almost two decades ago is that the “status quo” that was redeclared in Sunday evening’s compromise between the prime minister and the ultra-Orthodox parties is fiction. There is no such this and there is no such status. Shopping malls are opened, and supermarkets and governmental institutions work on Shabbat (Israel Railways is the smallest one of them all).
What does exist as an alternative is civil independence. Everything related to state and religion, which isn’t decided on due to fear, happens miraculously on its own, and usually without any control. There isn’t a single person in the coalition, among the Haredi Knesset members or the Haredi journalists who doesn’t understand what I just wrote here, yet the show must go on.
Yaakov Litzman will be demoted to deputy minister in the capacity of minister, the halachic state as a rhetorical ideal has been demoted to a halachic state minus, the seculars have been demoted from empty wagons to unconcerned wagons, and Shabbat has been demoted to a theatrical play for public activists.