Rabbi Litzman Resigns to Protest Chillul Shabbos; Tentative Coalition Agreement Reached

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Health Minister Rabbi Yaakov Litzman (Flash90)

Health Minister Rabbi Yaakov Litzman (United Torah Judaism) submitted his resignation on Sunday morning because of the government-sanctioned chillul Shabbos, despite all of the government’s promises to the contrary.

With less than 48 hours left before Rabbi Litzman’s resignation was go into effect, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and the chareidi parties met and reached a tentative agreement.

The discussed deal revolves on the passage of a law to preserve the status quo regarding religious observance across the country.

While the agreement calls for a law that will not be enforced retroactively, and would therefore not include the closures of the grocery stores which have been permitted to open on Shabbos in Tel Aviv, it was also agreed that Finance Committee Chairman Rabbi Moshe Gafni may introduce a clause to the law that will apply to these stores as well. The bill will be brought to the Ministerial Committee for Legislation next week.

In determining the necessity of work on Shabbos, the minister of work and welfare will be given the authority to consider safety, Jewish tradition, the welfare of the workers and inconvenience to the public. This provision is designed to give him the authority to ban work on Shabbos.

The agreement also includes passage of a law that would allow Rabbi Litzman to assume the post of Deputy Health Minister, with administrative powers of a full minister. However, Rabbi Litzman clearly stipulated that he would not consider the latter change until the other laws are actually passed rather than merely promised.

The deal came several hours after Rabbi Litzman submitted his resignation as Health Minister on Sunday morning to Cabinet Secretary Tzachi Braverman in protest against the infrastructure railway work performed this Shabbos. His resignation goes into effect on Tuesday morning.

Rabbi Litzman announced on Friday that he would be resigning when no resolution could be found to the issue of construction work during Shabbos on the Israel Railways.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said on Sunday at the weekly cabinet meeting — sans Rabbi Litzman — that he will serve as health minister in the interim.

In his letter of resignation to the prime minister, Rabbi Litzman wrote: “I hereby notify you that I am resigning my position as Health Minister. This decision comes as a consequence of the work carried out on Shabbos by Israel Railways.

“For all the generations the Jewish people have kept Shabbos as a paramount value, as it says in our holy Torah: ‘And the children of Israel will keep Shabbos for all their generations, an everlasting covenant. Between Me and the Jewish people it is a sign forever.’

“In the state of Israel, as well, we have known how to observe the day of rest, in its proper sanctity. As such, I cannot take responsibility for chillulei Shabbos that are contrary to the status quo, violate the values ​​of Jewish tradition and constitute a red line.

“I have tried to prevent chillul Shabbos in every way possible, but I can no longer bear ministerial responsibility for such flagrant violation of the eternal values ​​of the Jewish people, one of which is Shabbos. I leave my position with a raised head and a sense of Jewish mission.

“I am happy that I had the opportunity to improve and promote the health system in Israel and I will continue to work for all Israeli citizens in every way and in every place.”

It was noted that the Israel Railways carried out chillul Shabbos, which, even in the opinion of senior Likud officials, would not be considered pikuach nefesh. These included work on the Tel Aviv-Yerushalayim rail line, where Jews carried out work during Shabbos, lo aleinu, with the only explanation being the need to meet the goal of opening the railway line in 2018.

For several months, the chareidi parties have protested the government’s ongoing flouting of agreements and understandings reached to eliminate public chillulei Shabbos, such as railway infrastructure work despite there being no pikuach nefesh involved. All attempts to appeal to the various ministers or the special government committee that was established for this purpose have thus far, unfortunately, been fruitless.

Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Dovid Lau spoke with Rabbi Litzman on Sunday, and blessed him for his decision for kvod Shabbos. Rabbi Lau said that the resignation submitted by Rabbi Litzman, in compliance with the instructions of his Rabbanim, constitutes a kiddush shem Shamayim.

Noting that Shabbos is a day of rest and of holiness, Rabbi Lau said that the holiness has already been trampled in some places, and that now, some are seeking to trample the “rest,” as well.

Coalition Chairman David Bitan pointed the finger of blame for the coalition crisis on Sunday over chilul Shabbos on ministerial dysfunction, which he said will soon be corrected.

Bitan would not admit that a crisis exists — though it was the first time since the government was elected in May 2015 that the weekly meeting of coalition leaders was canceled for political reasons, following Rabbi Litzman’s resignation.

Interior Minister Rabbi Aryeh Deri also reportedly skipped the cabinet meeting to protest the railway work on Shabbos, and Finance Committee Chairman Rabbi Moshe Gafni was not expected to attend.

However, Bitan played down the situation, terming it “a certain fluctuation,” nothing more, according to Ynet.

According to Bitan, blame for problem lies with Welfare and Social Services Minister Haim Katz and Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz, who have responsibility for authorizing infrastructure work on Shabbos for reasons of public safety (pikuach nefesh).

“They could have handled it,” said Bitan, though without saying how. “And then we wouldn’t have gotten to the point where we needed to bring it before the prime minister, since the prime minister can’t offer a solution within a day or two — he doesn’t have the authority, anyway, since the High Court decided that the ministers have that authority.

“I’m not blaming anyone,” claimed Bitan. “I’m just saying.”

In explaining his use of the term “fluctuation,” Bitan pointed out that “right now [Rabbi] Litzman is resigning from the government, not the coalition.” He has relinquished his ministerial responsibilities (effective 48 hours from Sunday morning) but remains a member of the coalition, thus not affecting the majority, at least for the time being.

MKs and ministers from the coalition praised Rabbi Litzman’s professionalism and determination in introducing important reforms in Israel’s health-care system, including instituting free dental care for children, and spearheading efforts to encourage healthier eating among Israelis.

“I regret the decision,” Netanyahu said at Sunday’s cabinet meeting. “He was an excellent minister who cared greatly for the health of Israelis. This has been a wonderful government, the best ever for Israel, and I know that all parts of the coalition think this and want to preserve the coalition,” he added, expressing hope that United Torah Judaism would remain in the coalition despite Rabbi Litzman’s resignation.

Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon said that he was sorry that Rabbi Litzman would no longer be a member of the cabinet. “I have no doubt that a solution will be found” to the issue of railroad maintenance on Shabbos, he said. “I spoke with him and I am set to meet him on Monday.”

Regional Cooperation Minister Tzachi Hanegbi said that “he was a valuable member of the cabinet and I hope he will return soon. The Prime Minister is managing this crisis personally, and we trust that he will find the way to resolve the matter.” Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev said that she had told Rabbi Litzman that “we don’t want you to leave. I believe he will come back at some point.”

Updated Sunday, November 26, 2017 at 7:01 pm