This week, Gidon Sa’ar, the minister of Internal Affairs, overruled the decision of the municipality of Tel Aviv to open convenience stores on Shabbat. There was a great uproar, calling for an end to “religious coercion” in Israel. “Tel Aviv is a free city, and freedom of choice should be exercised” called out Tel Aviv mayor, Ron Chuldai. Let’s take a good look at modern day freedom, and its adverse, slavery, in Israel.
One of the definitions of slavery is “a condition compared to that of a slave, in respect of exhausting labor or restricted freedom“. There are literally hundreds of thousands of men and women in Israel who work around the clock, and their freedom is restricted. Freedom to be with their families, freedom to get one day of rest, and general freedom of cutting out of the Human Rat Race. Those slaves are transparent- we meet them all the time, but we don’t know they exist. These people are the engine and the fuel of the leisure time of our weekends.
One of the great inventions of Judaism is the “Sabbath”: a day that is dedicated to family, to introspection and the delight of freedom for the everyday race of life. And lately, it has also become apparent, how much we need to “unplug” from the digital media which surrounds us. It is a day where we stop working and start living. Rest on the seventh day was first frowned upon by the Greeks, who called the people of Israel, “lazy”, and later ridiculed by the Romans. But in the 21st century, humanity cannot imagine itself without the weekend and its restive qualities.
In the state of Israel, which should be the bedrock of Sabbath day observance, we are still far from exercising our full freedom. Saturday is used for leisure time, and catching up on unfinished errands and obligations, and often work. Best case scenario is when the family wants to go out together on a Saturday morning. To facilitate this outing, there is an army of modern slaves that do not have a day off during the week. From taxi drivers who work overtime, to gas station operators, to convenience store clerks, repair and tire exchange garages, security guards, restaurants that must open for fear of competition. The list goes on and on, and literally hundreds of thousands of Israelis do not have a rest day.
One might argue and claim that they are paid overtime and with higher percentage than a regular day, and they are doing it out of their own will. But so does the Chinese boy working in a sweatshop. He earns well (relatively), but it comes at the expense of his freedom. Most of these modern Israeli slaves come from low socio-economic backgrounds and feel they “must” make the overtime money of the weekend. But even wealthier service providers must compete in the market. A friend of mine, who is a famous chef, told me once that he hasn’t been with his family on Friday night for ten years (!) because if he closes his restaurant, the competition will “destroy him”.
In Israel, we must free our modern slaves! They must be able to conduct their lives without feeling that they missed out on a financial opportunity. They must have time to rest, to visit their relatives and to play with their kids without being subjugated to others’ desires. The majority of our country is not religious and does not have an observant lifestyle. They will drive on Shabbat and they will not observe the 39 prohibited categories of laws of Shabbat. These people should fill up on gas beforehand, eat a good meal at home or at the beach, without needing services of modern slaves.
This modern-day slavery is not unique to Israel; it is epidemic of the world at large, and of capitalistic western society. Let the word come out from Zion; let us introduce to the world a “Slave Free Saturday”. Imagine a day where no one entertains you, no one serves you and no one transports or sells to you. With your actions, you free from bondage and set generations of modern day slaves, free! “You should make the Sabbath day holy… so your slave and maiden should rest and you shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt. We were freed from Egyptian slavery once; now it’s time for the second redemption! It’s time for the hardworking people of Tel Aviv to be freed once again. Close the shops, the gas stations, the malls and the entertainment outlets and food stalls and let people spend some time with their families.