Everyone is talking about the status quo, but no one is talking about justice. We should all welcome the Tel Aviv-Jaffa municipality decision to allow for public transportation on Shabbat. In Tel Aviv, there are service taxis (lines No. 4 and 5) that raise their price on Shabbat. If there are service taxis providing service in Tel Aviv on weekends, then any claim about the status quo really is disconnected from reality. The reality is that there is public transportation on Shabbat, but it is privatized and not connected to the state.
The country, in any case, does not stop running on Shabbat. Claims against public transportation on Shabbat do not stand up to the reality test. Indeed there are entire infrastructures that operate on Shabbat: emergency services, electricity, water, hospitals, Magen David Adom [ambulance service], firefighters, the police and the IDF.
MK Nitzan Horowitz (Meretz) asked how all of these systems operate on Shabbat, yet public transportation has turned into such a hot-button issue – and he is absolutely correct.
In Haifa, where I was born, there has been public transportation on Shabbat since the establishment of the state. That city also has religious and Arab neighborhoods. So what happened up there in Haifa? What happened is that the people who observe Shabbat ignore the buses, and those who ride on them do not ask anyone else to violate Shabbat laws. Each person lives according to his or her own beliefs. In Haifa, the public is allowed to choose how it wants to live. The choice is up to each individual, who is guided by his or her personal belief system.
It is quite simple: Instead of a blanket decision against public transportation, we can leave the choice to each citizen.
When it comes to public transportation on Shabbat, the time has come to do away with the hypocrisy, the little lie, from “the status quo.”
Why do I say hypocrisy? Because Israel has a diverse population, much of which does not observe Shabbat according to religious law, and therefore requires public transportation. A large part of the population freely drives private vehicles. So it is not as if people across the country don’t drive on Shabbat. Furthermore, public transportation reduces air pollution, making it environmentally friendly. And let’s not forget it also benefits poorer populations. Public transportation does not impose itself on anyone. How anyone can oppose such a proposal is beyond me.
Indeed it is too early to celebrate. The decision by the Tel Aviv municipality still needs approval by the city’s executive committee and the Transportation Ministry. Despite past experience and familiarity with the country’s political system, supporters of public transportation on Shabbat still hope the plan isn’t torpedoed.
Unfortunately, the chances this plan will not happen are high. Yoav Lerman, a blogger who covers public transportation, does not believe the proposal for public transportation on Shabbat will be approved. He says the fact that the bill was passage to the municipal executive committee for approval does not bode well. He also mentions the coalition agreement between Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai’s party and the religious factions, which stipulates that “the municipal administration will not subsidize or be directly or indirectly involved with issues of transportation services to the beach or any other place on Shabbat or Jewish holidays.”
Regardless of the bureaucratic process, it is unfortunate that we are already hearing voices from the political spectrum opposing transportation on Shabbat. When you hear them come out against the proposal, know that they are merely trying to earn political points and are disconnected from the reality on the ground.