One of hottest topics in Israel is the tension that exists between the religious and the non religious people of Israel. Out of all topics, Shabbat is often times at the center of the discussion. Should it be allowed to open stores on Shabbat? How about grocery stores? How about public transportation on shabbat?
The religious and some of the traditional people in Israel claim that shabbat should be observed in the public sphere indicating that Israel is a Jewish state. Some claim that banning commercial activity on shabbat is required for “social” reasons, allowing everyone, the rich and the poor to have valuable time with their families and friends. They claim that allowing stores to operate on shabbat, will for sure increase the pressure on the low income workers who would be forced to work on Shabbat missing their right for a free day, a day of rest, at the same time with the rest of the Israeli society.
One of the most sensitive issues in this discussions over shabbat, is the topic of public transportation. On the one end, a Jewish state, and shabbat is a symbol and is a part of our national identity. But on the other end, if you don’t have a car, shabbat can be very very limiting or expansive. Why? Lets say you live in Holon and you want to go out with friends in Tel Aviv. If you take a taxi, it’s going to cost you 100 NIS per each direction (maybe more). This issue becomes more problematic if you want to go for Shabbat dinner with family, and they live in another city, or if you want to visit someone in the hospital. If you don’t have a car, you will probably will not do any of that. The lack of public transportation will limit your ability to celebrate shabbat with your family.
Now my question to the religious decision makers. Do they think, that banning people from enjoying their shabbat (in the way they choose) will bring them closer to Judaism? Will this make them want to come closer to tradition? Is this bringing more peace to Am Israel?
I think the answer is clear, and this is exactly the message Liberman is trying to make. He often says, “we respect Judaism and the Jewish tradition” but we must live according to the motto of “live and let live“. From personal experience, I can testify that Liberman has great respect to the Jewish tradition. I once found myself around a big shabbat dinner with many people from all around Israel. The one person who stopped everyone and insisted that I would say a Dvar Torah was Liberman.
Liberman is the leading advocate in these elections for much more availability of public transportation on Shabat. He emphasizes that this would be in places that demand it and need it. More public transportation on shabbat will allow more people to enjoy their shabbat in their own way, will lower the tension towards shabbat and between the religious and the non religious societies in Israel. I therefore dare to say, that more public transportation on shabbat might bring more peace to Am Israel. I also believe that this will also bring people closer to the Jewish tradition, and will make them enjoy and respect shabbat (because it would no longer be an issue of conflict).
I think Liberman is not alone about this topic and that other political parties (Likud, Cachol Lavan, and others), can agree with what he says.
Having said all of this. I also think technology can help with this tension over public transportation on shabbat. Think about it. On Demand/Car Sharing services like VIA (www.ridewithvia.com), if offered at reasonable pricing, can solve the issue of public transportation on shabbat in Israel. It would be operated privately and not by the “state” licenced companies, it will available, and it would be efficient (small cars or vans vs. buses).
Election time is a time of conflict but we should find more ways to lower the tension. I hope we remember that “Oneg Shabat” is a basic right of all, and the way each chooses to fulfill it, is his or her own business.
Disclaimer: Shahar Alon, is a member of Israel Beitenu, and is on its list for Knesset. He grow up in a traditional home, and loves shabbat.