It is nothing less than scandalous that the rubble of the Maariv bridge in Tel Aviv, which was demolished last Friday in a controlled explosion, was cleared away on Shabbos.
For starters, we are talking about a project that is expected to drag on for seven years, ensnarling Tel Aviv in endless traffic jams and devastating businesses in the affected areas (those who lived through the construction of the light rail in Yerushalayim remember how downtown was inaccessible for years due to the digging and dirt).
So how terrible would it have been to clear away the rubble on Sunday and incur one more day of traffic jams?
Second, Harav Yisrael Meir Lau, Tel Aviv’s respected Chief Rabbi, had contacted the owner of the company that was tasked with doing the clean-up and asked him to ensure that there would be no chillul Shabbos. He pleaded, employing his inimitable grace and passion on behalf of Shabbos, and received assurances that there would be no chillul Shabbos.
Tragically, these assurances weren’t honored. The contractors for some reason thought it would be acceptable to use non-Jews to do the work, even though Rav Lau clarified that this was not halachically acceptable.
Economy Minister Aryeh Deri of Shas also took precautions to prevent chillul Shabbos, getting Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz to agree that clean-up efforts would come to a halt with the onset of Shabbos. But the agreement was breached and the next morning saw heavy construction equipment out in force clearing away concrete and metal.
Rav Lau expressed his heartfelt pain, adding that what’s important is preventing a repeat in the coming years of intensive construction. Aryeh Deri was more forceful, firing off a strongly worded protest and warning that his faction would not stand by idly should work on the Tel Aviv light rail continue on Shabbos.
“The next time there is an unneeded and outrageous desecration of Shabbat to work on the Tel Aviv light rail or any other state project as happened on this Shabbat, which was not needed for life-saving reasons, the Shas faction I head will not let this pass,” he wrote.
The battle for Shabbos has been heating up all over the country. In Yerushalayim, we are seeing the disastrous opening of an entertainment center, which the mayor is trying to make more “palatable” by closing down a number of minimarkets that have been open on Shabbos in the center of the city (of course, they shouldn’t have been open in the first place).
In Haifa and Ashdod there is a major battle being waged against the opening of BIG shopping malls that draw thousands of shoppers on Shabbos.
Mayors in these cities must be encouraged to enforce municipal bylaws that make it illegal to open on Shabbos. It is important to note that the askanim are fighting not just for the chareidi and religious community, but for the entire country.
Shabbos commerce puts pressure on other businessmen who want to be with their families to open on Shabbos. It also puts pressure on minimum wage-workers who are told by potential employers that the job is only available to someone willing to work on Shabbos.
Recognizing this, even those who don’t yet appreciate the intrinsic, restorative kedushah of Shabbos oppose the seven-day work week. People like Zionist Camp MK Shelly Yachimovich are fierce advocates of keeping Shabbos a day of rest.
There have been some important victories in the battle for Shabbos. Last week, the Labor Court ruled in favor of soccer players who had appealed to the Labor Court against a decision by the National League management to hold games on Shabbos.
MK Miki Zohar (Likud), chairman of the Subcommittee on Sport, hailed the decision. “I applaud the judge for reminding us all that working on Shabbat in the [soccer] league is a criminal deed, to all intents and purposes,” he said. “The bill I submitted, which calls on soccer clubs to observe the Shabbat, will prevent such absurd situations in the future, and will allow athletes to keep the day of rest they deserve by law.
“It is not possible that in the Jewish and democratic state of Israel, a Jew will be forbidden from keeping Shabbat. It is not for nothing that the matter is anchored in law, and management’s attempt to force the players to play on Shabbat is a criminal act.”
Shabbos is a basic human right, not “religious coercion.” The askanim who are leading the battle deserve our thanks and support for bringing all Jews of Eretz Yisrael the opportunity to taste olam haba.
Eretz Yisrael needs the zechus of shemiras Shabbos, especially in the face of Iran and the other serious threats confronting the country. Am Yisrael needs Shabbos, which is a birthright that cannot be denied Jews — especially in a Jewish state.