An ultra-Orthodox lawmaker on Wednesday said his party would demand a law banning municipalities from operating public transportation on the Jewish rest day of Shabbat, drawing rebuke from secular rivals and the Tel Aviv mayor, and returning the subject of religion and state to the national stage ahead of Monday’s Knesset election.
Tel Aviv and surrounding municipalities in November introduced a bus service during Friday evenings and Saturdays.
“We will demand a law that will determine that there will be no public transportation on Shabbat,” United Torah Judaism (UTJ) No. 2 Moshe Gafni told Army Radio.
“The current situation, where there is public transportation in some of the local councils, is a state of lawlessness.”
Gafni made similar comments at a campaign rally on Monday, according to ultra-Orthodox media.
In Israel, buses and trains do not generally run in Jewish-majority cities on Friday night and Saturday before sundown. The practice was born of an agreement reached between the ultra-Orthodox community and Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, before the formation of the state.
Secular Israelis have long chafed at their restricted mobility during the weekend.
Israel’s ultra-Orthodox have also long protested infrastructure and maintenance work on roads and rail lines during Shabbat.
Yair Lapid, deputy leader of Blue and White and the leading secularist force in the centrist party, commented: “If you think there is a difference between Tel Aviv and [the predominantly ultra-Orthodox city of] Bnei Brak, you’d better vote for Blue and White — or else you will get Gafni as Tel Aviv mayor.”
Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai said Gafni’s remark was “further proof that we are on the way to a halachic state,” meaning a state governed by religious Jewish law.
“In the near future we will stop going to the beach on Shabbat,” he quipped.
Interior Minister Aryeh Deri, who leads another ultra-Orthodox party, Shas, responded to Huldai during his own interview with Army Radio: “We have been in the leadership for five years. Has anyone told Tel Aviv residents what to do? Has anyone intervened in their lives?”
Deri ducked a question about his opinion on the issue of public transportation on Shabbat, saying: “I don’t normally comment on those matters. I’m not dealing with it before the elections.”
Besides the Tel Aviv Shabbat service — whose routes circumvent religious neighborhoods and include transportation to surrounding communities including Ramat Hasharon, Givatayim and Kiryat Ono — other Israeli cities recently announced their intention to begin providing public transportation on Saturdays, including Tel Aviv suburbs Ramat Gan and Ganei Tikva.
Last year, a free Saturday bus line was launched in the northern town of Tiberias.