Israel’s High Court Drops Latest Petition Demanding Shabbos Bus Transportation

The High Court building in Yerushalayim. (Yossi Zamir/Flash90)

The High Court decided on Monday not to adjudicate in a petition by Reform groups demanding that the Transport Ministry require bus companies to run lines on Shabbos for the benefit of Israelis who need to go to the hospital. The government had responded to the petition, which was led by Meretz MK Tamar Zandberg, by saying that there was little demand for bus transportation to hospitals on Shabbos, and that there were sufficient other methods for individuals to get to the hospital if they need to.

The petition demanded that the state show cause why it did not institute these lines, as it was an “important need” and could even be deemed “pikuach nefesh.” In response, the state said that there had been no requests within communities or by hospitals for such service. The state said that if there was any need for such transportation, it would be for hospital workers – and today all the hospitals have private transportation vans that can take workers to their institutions as needed. None of the needs presented in the petition warrant violating the long-standing status quo, in which buses do not run on Shabbos, the state said.

The status quo on religious matters applies in this situation, and changing it could cause a significant change in government policy that was not the place of the court to decide on the basis of the current petition, the state further argued, adding that the Transport Minister is “required to act in a manner that takes into consideration Jewish tradition on transportation on Shabbos.” The court accepted the state’s stance on the status quo, and offered the petitioners the option of dropping the case – which they accepted.

Commenting on the court’s action, Zandberg said she would be back. “The court refused to touch the ‘hot potato’ of public transportation on Shabbos, but it definitely left the door open for further petitions on this matter, and to think of new approaches. We note that the court did not accept the state’s claim that there was not a ‘great need’ for such transportation, instead accepting its argument for maintaining the status quo. If this ‘great need’ is put to a legal test we are sure it will be shown to be accurate. This is just one more stage in the struggle to ensure public transportation on Shabbos, and we will continue to fight this battle with all means at our disposal.”