Religious freedom: Close everything for Shabbat

In order to guarantee the freedom to keep mitzvot, just about everything in Israel MUST be closed for Shabbat.  I say this not because it will “ruin my Shabbat” (I am actually IN FAVOR of allowing cars to drive through my neighborhood on Shabbat, but we can discuss that another time).  Unfortunately, it’s hard to have a conversation about what is right, or what is good for the whole, because of the way people have come to think.

In the Torah, we have the commandment  (Deut. 14:1) לא תתגודדו, which literally means not to cut ourselves as a mourning practice, but which the rabbis interpret homelitically as “Do not break into groups (אגודות).  This is a fundamental problem in Israel; much more pronounced, I believe than outside of the Land. Here, we speak in “sectors”: the chareidi (“ultra-Orthdox”) sector, the National Religious sector, the chiloni (“secular”) sector, etc.

As Orwell points out in his book, 1984, the language we use affects how we think and we can only make decisions, or change our minds, in ways that we already have the language to express.  Our “sector” language causes all sorts of anomalies and poor decisions in Israeli society, some of which cause actual damage.

In Israel, it is not uncommon to find a chiloni who puts on tefillin or keeps Shabbat.  If you were to point out to him that this is religious behavior, he’d say he’s not religious because he is not in the National Religious or chareidi sector.  In fact, if you were to encourage him to increase his practice, he’s likely to decline, not out of disinterest, but because my sector is my identity. It is not that “chiloni” is an adjective that describes his beliefs and behaviors; he believes it to be his essence.

Recently, the Knesset passed a law saying that you didn’t have to be 100% religious (or a member of a religious sector) to get Shabbat off.  How was this not the law for the last 70 years??? We had a law guaranteeing “religious” workers the right to observe Shabbat, but you had to be “religious”.  Dipping one’s toe in Torah observance was not good enough.

Why am I in favor of closing all businesses on Shabbat?  The issue is simple economics. In many countries, the norm is that businesses run 24/7.  When that happens, they need to hire people to work on Shabbat. I’ve had to deal with this my entire career.  Mostly, I waited until after I was hired to tell them about Shabbat and they worked it out, because most of the workforce was not Jewish anyway.  But that was not a Jewish country and we all knew that.

But what happens in a Jewish country if a business wants to be open on Shabbat?  Let’s say the only need two employees? Well, what if we hire one from the “religious” sector, or even the “chareidi” sector?  Maybe we can even set one of the positions aside as a quota? This is what I have a problem with. They can’t fill both positions with Shabbat observant workers.  To have a just society that has religious freedom for Jews, every job must have the ability for anyone to fill it – Shabbat observant, or not.

What about real emergencies?  Fire, police, electrical grid, doctors?  Shabbat observant people are already able to do these jobs, because they are lifesaving, and a real risk to life overrides Shabbat.

The only exceptions I would make (because I know someone will comment on it) are when the job itself requires a level observance – meaning religious services like religious courts or kashrut.

When I stated it in another forum, I was told by other religious people, “It won’t affect you or other ‘religious’ people like you.”  If you’ve read the previous paragraphs, you’ll see that’s exactly the problem. I was also told, “The non-religious don’t mind because they make extra money for working Shabbat.”  Ugh! So you don’t need freedoms, as long as we pay you enough?

We are building a society here, and there is a lot to say about what that society should look like, but we first need to get past our own myopic interests before we can possibly build a good one.

About the Author
Reuven (sometimes Bobby) came from a mixed Jewish-Christian background. He became ba'al teshuva (Jewishly observant) in his 20s with the intention of making aliyah, which didn't happen until his 40s. His daughter, Shani, also blogs and serves in the IDF as a medic. She was a lone soldier until her parents made aliyah in 2017.
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