Why Chareidim will vote no to the Shabbat law
by Jonathan Rosenblum
Jerusalem Post Int'l Edition
January 25, 2002
Sponsors of the Shabbat law, which would ban all commercial activity on Shabbat while permitting places of entertainment and restaurants to remain open, are certainly right that the law would reduce the total instances of chillul Shabbat in Israel.
Over the past ten years, Shabbat observance in the public square has declined markedly. Not only are restaurants, discos, and movie theaters open in most places, but the opening of large shopping centers on a number of kibbutzim has turned Shabbat into a shopping day for much of the country.
The kibbutz shopping centers confront local merchants in nearby cities, like Ranaana and Netanya, with a difficult choice between remaining open on Shabbat or going out of business. And if one large city on the coastal plain opens its business district for commerce on Shabbat, every neighboring city will be forced to follow suit.
The Shabbat law, then, constitutes an effort to recreate a distinction between Shabbat and the rest of the week that once existed to a much greater degree in Israel. For that reason, the law has no chance of passage. The rabidly anti-religious parties – Shinui, Meretz, and large segments of Labor – are desperate to find any issue that will bring them back to favor, despite their discredited security agenda. They have pounced on the bill as an instance of "religious coercion" designed to rob secular Israelis of their divine right to shop on Shabbat.
That the anti-religious oppose the law is easily enough understood. What is harder to understand is why religious Knesset members are likely to oppose the law. Surely they too realize that the law is the last finger in the dike before a public Shabbat ceases to exist in Israel.
And of the religious Knesset members the hardest to understand are the haredi parties. Since the haredi world has never invested the State with any theological significance, one would expect its representatives to support any initiative that would as a practical matter, reduce Sabbath desecration.
Haredi legislators are aware, however, the Israel is viewed by millions of Jews around the world as the Jewish state. What Israel does is, in their eyes, "Judaism." The Shabbat law effectively legislates a Saturday for Israel on the model of Sunday in the rest of the Western world – i.e., "fun day."
In the short run the Shabbat law would result in fewer public acts of chillul Shabbat. But the concept of Shabbat as a day for refraining from all creative endeavor in order to reconnect with the One who created the world from nothing would be diminished.
As long as the traditional vision of Shabbat remains pristine, there remains the hope that Jews who presently have no connection to religious observance will discover the Sabbath. Once that vision is lost, they will be left with only `Shabbat-style’ that bears no more relationship to the real thing than "kosher-style" does to kosher.
Religious Knesset members can also not lend their hands to legislation that sanctions Shabbat violation – even in the name of increasing Sabbath observance. Those calculations are not left to religious Jews to make. Our task is to do what the Torah requires and to leave the outcome to G-d.
Contrary to Blu Greenberg -- "Where there is a rabbinical will there is a rabbinical way" – Torah Jews do not view themselves as proprietors of the Torah to do what they want. Rather they are bailees of the Torah, charged with preserving it as they received it.
The mistaken belief that halachic scholars are free agents capable of interpreting the Torah as they wish gives rise to much misguided animus towards those scholars when they cannot produce a "solution" to every instance of human suffering. Individual suffering is often one factor to be considered in the halachic process, but it cannot become the only factor without destroying the integrity of the halachic system.
By opposing the Shabbat law, then, religious legislators are fighting against two misconceptions – one concerning the nature of Shabbat and the second about the malleability of the Torah.
Related Topics: Chareidim and Their Critics, Israeli Society
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