Tens of thousands of ultra-Orthodox protest over Shabbat work on light rail
Court rules work on Tel Aviv project can go ahead because halting construction would put tunnels in danger of collapse and endanger lives
Tens of thousands of ultra-Orthodox Jews protested in Bnei Brak on Friday evening after a court gave the go-ahead for work on the Tel Aviv light rail project on Shabbat, the Jewish day of rest.
The protesters, singing Shabbat songs and holding signs calling for the people to respect the sanctity of the day of rest, blocked a key highway junction in the area. Bnei Brak is an ultra-Orthodox neighborhood on the outskirts of Tel Aviv.
Police had given permission for the demonstration, which dispersed peacefully later in the evening.
The protest came after the Tel Aviv District Court said Friday work could go ahead, overturning a temporary injunction granted Thursday by a lower court.
The district court accepted the stance of the state construction company that halting work could endanger lives, saying it put the tunnels that are being bored in danger of collapse.
One of the few instances where government workers are allowed to work on Shabbat is in cases that save lives.
Construction of the rail has been beset by disputes over Shabbat work, most recently the decision to delay construction on a pedestrian bridge over a major highway in Tel Aviv by six months amid protests from ultra-Orthodox lawmakers.
The work, which will require one direction of the highway to be shut down while massive steel support girders are hoisted into place, had been slated to coincide with Shabbat to minimize the impact on commuters.
Ron Huldai, the mayor of Tel Aviv, has accused the government of repeatedly caving to ultra-Orthodox demands and turning the country into a theocracy.
Ultra-Orthodox lawmakers have repeatedly threatened to bring down the government over Shabbat work and Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman from the United Torah Judaism party has in the past resigned his ministerial post in protest of infrastructure work on the Sabbath.