The cabinet signed off on Sunday on a controversial power storage project that is meant to address the concerns of strictly devout Jews about using electricity produced by other Jews on the Sabbath.
The plan for the storage facility in Bnei Brak comes with a price tag of about NIS 120 million ($33 million), which critics say would come out of the pockets of consumers — including those who do not require stored electricity to help them comply with religious laws about observing the Jewish day of rest.
Haredi Jews, who adhere to a strict interpretation of Jewish law, have long promoted the establishment of power storage facilities. They seek an alternative to consuming electricity produced on Shabbat in violation of religious laws.
Whereas most observant Jews as a rule do not operate electrical appliances on the Sabbath, they do consume electricity passively, using timers that do not require turning the current on or off, including in refrigerators, air conditioners, elevators and lamps. Haredi politicians and rabbis want that current to be kosher, meaning not produced by Jews during the Sabbath.
Currently, generators are used in many largely-Haredi neighborhoods on Shabbat, but that method creates what critics say is a safety hazard, and it costs significantly more than metered electricity.
Yisrael Beytenu chairman Avigdor Liberman, whose opposition party has often protested what it perceives as religious coercion by Haredi politicians, warned that a nationwide supply of so-called kosher electricity would cost at least NIS 90 billion (about $25 billion) that the general consumer would be forced to foot.
“This will be funded by the middle class, who serve in the Israel Defense Forces, work and pay taxes,” Liberman wrote on Twitter, in a thinly veiled derisive swipe at Haredim.
“This is another insane step in the direction of a state based on halacha,” he said, referencing Orthodox religious law.
Israel Katz, the minister of national infrastructure, energy, and water, defended the plan as “meant to facilitate the production of electricity in low-demand times to provide it at high-demand ones, including to Haredi neighborhoods,” while reducing the use of polluting generators.
Katz is a senior member of the ruling Likud party, whose coalition relies on the support of two major Haredi parties.
The pilot’s cost will not come out of consumers’ pockets, Katz said in a video posted on Twitter, claiming that the storage facility would be “profitable” and pay for itself.
The Israel Electric Corporation, a government-owned entity that produces close to half of all the electricity consumed in Israel, will sell the storage facility in three years to the private sector, increasing the profit margin, he said.