The Tel Aviv City Council voted Monday to operate public transportation on Shabbat within the city limits. Currently, services cease Friday afternoon and resume after sundown on Saturday, as Jewish law forbids vehicular operation on Shabbat.
The new measure, which would extend service on Friday and Saturdays, passed in a 13-7 vote. The Tel Aviv-Jaffa municipality is expected to submit an official request to the Transportation and Interior Ministries for approval.
Council member Tamar Zandberg, who initiated the proposal, cited polls showing that more than half of the city’s population supports public transportation on Shabbat. As some 40 percent of residents do not own their own vehicle, Zandberg believes this measure will encourage mobility on the weekends.
“For years, the secular community has been hostage to haredi politicians, who want to continue to restrict the freedom of movement of millions of citizens for one day every week,” Zandberg argued.
“This entire group is stuck, imprisoned, grounded, precisely on the official day of rest, and is prevented from visiting parks, going to the beach or visiting family,” Zandberg added. “No one voted for the status quo.”
Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai has supported the move for some time. “I think that the state of Israel needs to provide public transportation on all days of the week. I’ve been saying this for 13 years.”
Religious politicians and rabbis object to the measure as abandoning the city’s Hebrew tradition and history.
“This gravely undermines the sanctity of Shabbat, which is a remnant of creation, a reminder of the exodus from Egypt and a day of rest for every worker – a day of spiritual elevation and the gathering of the family,” Tel Aviv Chief Rabbi Israel Meir Lau wrote in a letter addressed to the mayor, Army Radio reported Tuesday.
“This recommendation harms the history of Tel Aviv-Jaffa and is an insult to the prominent figures like the first mayor, Meir Dizengoff, Ahad Haam and Haim Nahman Biyalik, who have all made extreme efforts to preserve the character of the city as observant of the Sabbath,” the letter continued. Lau called on the mayor to “not allow the candle of Shabbat to burn out.”
MK Moshe Gafni also criticized the initiative, saying, “This is a reckless and populist decision. We won’t allow this deliberate and malicious blow to the status quo or the violation of the sanctity of Shabbat in the state of Israel.” He called the resolution “a stain on the Tel Aviv municipality.”
Ultra-Orthodox Tel Aviv City Council member Naftali Lobert agreed, and even tried to get the initiative dismissed from the agenda because “in order to co-habitate each side must make compromises.”
Tsahar head Rabbi David Stav objected for different reasons, believing that any decision that affects both religious and secular residents should be decided 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 Transportation Ministry implied Monday that it would not approve the proposal. “The status quo concerning public transportation on Shabbat has been in place for decades, and the ministry has no intention of breaking it,” a ministry official said to Israel Hayom.
The Tel Aviv municipality responded that if the Ministry does not approve the measure, it intends to hire private companies to provide service on Saturdays. “The city residents truly need public transportation,” one municipality official told Israel Hayom. “No one is forcing anyone to get on a bus.”