Planning panel okays Tel Aviv metro via Bnei Brak, which denies approving Shabbat work

Committee said to reach deal with Haredi-dominated municipality to allow excavations in city on Jewish day of rest — but city council says this won’t happen outside extreme cases

Illustrative: The main street of Bnei Brak, August 17, 2023. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)
Illustrative: The main street of Bnei Brak, August 17, 2023. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)

Authorities gave their approval Monday to a project that will see the construction of a Tel Aviv metro line connecting the economic and cultural hub with cities to its east, including the predominantly Haredi city of Bnei Brak.

The approval of the M2 Line from Petah Tikva to Holon was accompanied by reports that the Bnei Brak Municipality had given its consent to some construction work to be carried out even on the Jewish rest day of Shabbat and on Jewish holidays, sparking a denial by the city council that broad exemption had been granted.

The project was approved by the National Infrastructure Committee, a panel of professionals from various government ministries, local councils and other bodies, which belongs to the Interior Ministry’s Planning Administration. It still requires the approval of the government.

According to Monday’s decision, the M2 Line — one of three planned metro lines aimed at connecting Tel Aviv with cities in its surrounding metropolis — will run for 25 kilometers, from Petah Tikva to Holon via Givat Shmuel, Bnei Brak, Ramat Gan, Givatayim and Tel Aviv.

Reportedly the biggest infrastructure project in the country’s history, its cost is estimated at NIS 150 billion ($40 billion).

The committee issued a statement saying the decision to have the line pass through Bnei Brak was made after the municipality signed an agreement with NTA Metropolitan Mass Transit System, which is in charge of the project.

A file photo of construction on the Red Line of the Tel Aviv Light Rail as part of the mass transit system for the Tel Aviv metropolitan area, some of which runs underground, September 13, 2021. (Moshe Shai/Flash90)

In light of this development, “an alternative route passing through Ramat Gan was canceled, in what will guarantee service to the city,” the committee said in a statement carried by Hebrew media.

The reports said the agreement stipulates that work will continue during Shabbat and Jewish holidays if it can’t be halted, or if temporarily stopping it entails danger to human life.

They said the decision on whether the works can be halted without danger to human life will lie with NTA. This led many reporters to contend that the Bnei Brak city council had in effect consented to work being carried out on Shabbat, since NTA views halting the excavation work of the tunnel boring machine (TBM) as dangerous (as the excavation destabilizes the ground above the machine and could lead to collapses if the work, along with concurrent fortification of the tunnels, is stopped midway).

That would be an unprecedented decision by a Haredi-led municipality, that, like its broader community in Israel, strongly opposes infrastructure and other state-approved works taking place on Saturdays and Jewish festivals, when many such activities are barred by religious law.

Ultra-Orthodox community members have staged countless protests in the past over state-approved works on Shabbat, even in non-Haredi cities.

Shortly after the reports were published, the Bnei Brak Municipality denied that work could generally be held on Shabbat, saying that the determination of whether certain works are needed to protect lives will require the approval of the city’s rabbis.

These rabbis don’t view as life-threatening the temporary halt of the TBM, according to the Kikar Hashabbat ultra-Orthodox news site.

The metro lines are planned alongside three predominantly aboveground light rail lines that will crisscross the Tel Aviv metropolis, of which one — the Red Line — was opened last month. Sections of the Red Line pass underground.

The opening of that line has been accompanied by protests against the fact that it, like the vast majority of public transportation in Israel, doesn’t operate on Shabbat.

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