Last week on Tuesday night (March 20, 2012), the Herzliya city council voted 12-5 in favor of public bus transportation on Shabbat. Last month Tel Aviv was the first city to decide to request buses. The city does not expect that the ministry of Transportation will agree to its request, but it plans to push the issue to the Israeli supreme court if it has to.
Both in Tel Aviv and Herzliya the mayor is supportive of the demand for Shabbat transporation. This is not true in all cities. Petach Tikva and Hadera community members are also advocating for their own city councils to join other cities in making formal requests to the Ministry of Transportation for Shabbat bus transportation. The Petach Tikva mayor says that such a proposal violates the consensus of the city coalition. The Hareda mayor says that this is not a city issue, but rather a matter for the Ministry of Transportation.
The arguments pro and con for buses in Herzliya, Jerusalem, Petach Tikva, and Hadera follow much the pattern of the discussion in Tel Aviv. Proponents argue that the buses will have no impact on Shabbat observers and may in fact reduce Shabbat disruption. Buses will not run through predominently religious neighborhoods. There will be less traffic on the streets since people can use the bus to get to the beach or to visit family and friends rather than the private cars. Shabbat buses will also reduce traffic accidents and environmental pollution. In Herzliya where there is limited parking near the beach, Shabbat buses also will also solve the parking problem.
Proponents also plead that this is a matter of social justice. Herzliya is one of the most well off cities in Israel, but it is also the home to seven working class neighborhoods. The well off neighborhoods are closer to the beach. Well off residents can easily access the beach, sometimes even on foot, but poorer residents can only get to the beach on Shabbat by hiring taxis or driving private cars. Secular Israelis often mark Shabbat by using the day to visit family, beaches, parks, and other recreational activities.
The price of gas is nearly $8 a gallon in Israel, making both taxis and private car very expensive for less well off citizens The Israeli government is recommending those who can’t afford the high gas prices cope by using public transportation. As far as economic justice is concerned the Israeli government is sending mixed messages. On one hand, the ministry of Transportation says it has no intention of approving either Tel Aviv or Herzliya’s request. On the other hand, public transportation is the governments solution to the high price of gas. According to Globes,
Ministry of Finance acting director general Doron Cohen told Hebrew daily “Ma’ariv” that the ministry has already foregone NIS 2.5 billion this year in revenues from gasoline excise as a result of the Trajtenberg recommendations, and it has no intention of carrying out additional tax cuts. “We have no control over gasoline prices, but we do have an influence over alternatives we offer the public, and we are encouraging and directing the public to use public transportation, and to buy fuel-efficient vehicles,” Cohen said.
However, justice conflicts also exist with the solution of providing buses. Jews have historically understood Shabbat as a day of rest for all Jews. This is directly tied to a moral imperative from the Jewish cultural memory of slavery. Not even Jewishly owned animals should be made to work on Shabbat because we were slaves in Egypt. (Deut 5:12-14). Among those opposed to the Herzliya proposal are bus drivers and the head of the merchant association. Bus drivers interviewey by MyNet and Yedidot Sharon said they worked hard all week and had no intention of working on Shabbat. MK Shelley Yachimovitch, head of Labor, abstained from the recent Knesset vote in February on a bill that would make it easier for cities to provide Shabbat bus service. According to an editorial in the Pulse, after the vote she explained on her facebook page : “A day of rest is among the great socialist values.” (the post appears to have been removed).
Other arguments against Shabbat buses insist that it violates a 60 year standing policy that buses do not run on Shabbat except in Haifa and Eilat at far north and south of Israel where there are large non-Jewish populations. Herzliya is in the center of Israel, near Tel Aviv.
In Herzliya, as in Tel Aviv, opponents also claimed that the council does not represent the true heart of the town. At least some of the city’s voters feel betrayed by the mayors support of Shabbat bus transporation. Moshe Vaknin, head of the city’s merchant association told MyNet:
We’re very angry. The mayor has breached the trust of the residents. She received 30% of her votes from the religious public which trusted her.
Dr. Shmuel Saudia, head of the movement “Herzliya for its residents”. lead a street demonstration on Friday against the proposal. Alluding to the kashrut rule that accidentally adding a small amount of treif (1/60th) cannot trief up an entire pot of soup, he says
Only a tiny pinpoint of people from Meretz, that is, a meaningless 1/60 of Israeli society across Israel and in the city of Herzliya., that can’t ascribe to the order of the day here in the city and to the sixty year old status quo [in Israel]. (Source: MyNet)
Israeli claims of “they are a miniscule minority” often need to be taken with a grain of salt. When Tel Aviv passed its Shabbat bus resolution, some opponents tried to claim that the city was 80% religious and would disapprove of bus transportation on Shabbat. Studies of Israeli public opinion on Shabbat bus transportation say that around 60% of Israelis believe it should be allowed. Studies also show that religious practice does not necessarily include a belief that secular people should be forced to observe Shabbat in the same way as traditionally observant Jews. As of 2009, only 46% of Israelis identify as secular so at least some of the opinions in favor of Shabbat bus transportation must be coming from Israeli Jews who consider themselves religious.
- לא עוצרים: גם בחדרה רוצים תחבורה בשבת, MyNet, 2012-03-23.
- הדתיים זועמים: ראש העיר רוצה אוטובוסים בשבת, MyNet, 2012-03-22.
- Herzliya city council supports bus service on Shabbat, following Tel Aviv’s lead, HaAretz, 2012-03-21
- Herzliya to apply for Saturday bus service , Globes, 2012-03-21.
- פתח תקוה: התחבורה הציבורית תפעל בשבת? , MyNet, 2012-03-15.
Other Jacob’s Bones posts on bus transporation on Shabbat:
- Shabbat Bus Protests Grow , 2012-02-29
- Haifa, Eilat have Buses on Shabbat: Is Tel Aviv Next? , 2012-02-21