While he supported the efforts to halt work on Israel’s train system over Shabbos, Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel said Monday night that Shabbos violations by workers in his own ministry were “unfortunately indispensable, although we are searching for ways to alleviate them.”
The workers in question are agriculture inspection officers who are stationed at Ben Gurion Airport, and are engaged in conducting agricultural inspections of luggage and cargo that passes through the airport. As flights come into the country on Shabbos, inspectors are needed to examine the luggage and cargo of those planes, said one source among the staff. “As long as they have flights coming in on Shabbos they will need us to inspect those flights,” the source said. “The only way to allow us to take the day off is to halt incoming flights on Shabbos.”
Revelations of the extent of the Shabbos work were made in an investigative report by Channel Two last week, with Ariel responding that he had been unaware of the matter. Now, a week later, Ariel said that he had conducted an investigation into the matter, and that in the case of the Agricultural Ministry workers, unlike with Israel Railway workers, the Shabbos work was indeed necessary.
“I am very supportive of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s stance on preventing chillul Shabbos in the work of upgrading the train infrastructure,” he said at a forum Sunday night. “Israel is a Jewish and democratic state, and that means that while people are free to do as they wish in their homes, we cannot have public violations of Shabbos. The Chief Rabbinate, not the police or the government, is the only body empowered to decide what must or must not be done on Shabbos.”
Working on Shabbos is a violation of state law, which requires that all workers get a day off – and for Jewish workers, that day is Shabbos, regardless of an individual’s level of observance. Working on Shabbos requires special permits from a number of ministries, and the Agriculture Ministry workers who inspect incoming cargo at the airport have such permits, said Ariel. “I checked into this and unfortunately there is no way around this. We are investigating what can be done, and we will present the case to the Rabbinate and follow its decisions.”