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Israel needs Sundays off

A proposal that sets 10 days a year aside for family, leisure, and cross-religious and cross-ethnic bonding

I miss Sundays.

I miss the down time and the family time; my children miss the much needed break from school.

Since moving to Israel eleven years ago, I have longed for Sundays off. Over time, I have discovered that this is not simply a personal desire of mine and most other English-speaking immigrants, but it is absolutely necessary for Israel’s own good.

The recent tension over playing soccer matches on Shabbat has raised this issue to the fore. Religious players do not want their professional league to play on Shabbat, and this has re-opened the religious-secular tension in Israel. League directors are saying they will shut down all professional soccer leagues in Israel if the government does not allow them to play on Shabbat.

In the many discussions I have had with secular leaders and lay people over this issue, the point is repeatedly raised that Shabbat is their only day off from work, and not allowing them to have the entertainment of professional soccer as part of their relaxation on their only day off is a form of religious coercion. They have also suggested that if we had Sunday as an additional day off, they would completely understand the religious side, and would support not having any matches on Shabbat.

During my time as a member of the 19th Knesset, I researched this topic extensively, as I sought to author and sponsor “Sundays off” legislation. In my discussions with ministers, Knesset members, and CEOs of major and smaller companies, I learned that switching to a “Sunday off” model is not as simple as it sounds.

The following challenges arise:

1) Fridays cannot be a full work day in Israel because the religious and traditional population must be home earlier to prepare for the Shabbat. Thus, switching to Sundays off would essentially leave us with a four-and-a-half day work-week, and not the full five-day week shared by most countries.

2) Twenty percent of the population in Israel is Arab. They work for Israeli companies, as do many Palestinians. Their employers give them a full day off on Friday, the Muslim day of rest. These companies would not be able to sustain their businesses if they give their Muslim workers off on Friday and their Jewish workers off on Sunday.

3) A high percentage of the Israeli workforce is paid by the hour. These people cannot afford a cut in their hours and their pay. Sundays off would lead to an even greater financial struggle for this less affluent population.

But there’s the other side: Sundays off would provide Israelis with a much needed break from the tense and highly pressured environment in Israel. I believe that it would be good for overall work production, and would have a positive impact on the Israeli family structure. These reasons alone should justify finding solutions to the problems posed by having Sundays off. When the religious element is added to the mix — with all the tensions and polarization that the Shabbat issue brings, alongside the potential benefits of religious and secular Israelis enjoying a day off together — finding solutions to those challenges becomes more necessary and even critical for Israel’s internal survival.

After studying the issue and its challenges, I decided to move forward and present a plan to have ten Sundays off per year. There is already a day off for Independence Day in the Spring, and the holidays in the Fall make a Sunday off unnecessary during the month when those holidays occur. But the other ten months would include one Sunday off. This would make a profound impact with regard to easing life’s tensions and providing more family time.

Just ten additional days off per year reduces the economic challenges inherent in shifting to Sundays off on a weekly basis, though some of the problems would still remain. Creative solutions have already been suggested to deal with an additional day off every week, such as lengthening the work day during the week and instituting a 3/4 work day on Friday. These can certainly be implemented in a modified, smaller scale to accommodate the plans for just ten additional days off.

Similarly, just one additional day off per month won’t solve all the religious issues, but it can certainly help in finding a compromise which will enable religious soccer players to continue playing, and secular fans to enjoy the sport on their day off.

The 19th Knesset dispersed before this plan for one Sunday off per month was able to gain traction. It is my hope that the 20th Knesset will act on this proposal. I have no doubt that once Israel experiences the positive outcome of one Sunday off per month, the next step will be solving the challenges and switching to a model of all Sundays off.

“Where there is a will there is a way” and “if you will it is no dream.” The will is gathering momentum and will grow even further with the initial, moderate change that I have proposed.

When that law and this major change in Israeli society happens, supporters of this initiative, like myself, won’t have to search for a weeknight to celebrate the accomplishment and then wake up the next morning tired for work.

We can do it on Sunday.

About the Author
Dov Lipman was elected to the 19th Knesset in January 2013. He is the author of seven books about Judaism and Israel, and holds rabbinic ordination from Ner Israel Rabbinical College and a masters in education from Johns Hopkins University. He has been at the forefront of combating religious extremism in Israel and is a leader in efforts to create Jewish unity both in Israel and around the world. Former MK Lipman is invited to speak on behalf of the Jewish state both in Israel and around the world and serves as a political commentator for i24 News and ILTV. He currently serves as Secretary General for the Confederation of United Zionists.