Key Shabbos Law Passes First Test; Ministries Will Need to Take Mesores Yisrael Into Account

Infrastructure work of Israel Railways at the Herzliya railway station. (Avi Dishi/Flash90, File)

The Knesset passed Wednesday a preliminary reading of MK Rabbi Moshe Gafni’s bill, which seeks to reduce chillulei Shabbos, which is carried out mainly by Israel Railways with the approval of the government ministries, as part of the agreement reached between the chareidi parties and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu in the Shabbos crisis that threatened to topple the coalition.

Forty-three MKs voted for while 32 voted against. The bill seeks to amend the Hours of Work and Rest Law and add at the end that “the minister will also take into account the tradition of Israel as much as possible.” The purpose: Labor Minister Chaim Katz will now be allowed to consider Israel’s tradition when he is asked to grant work permits on Shabbos to Israel Railways.

Unusually, the bill was approved Tuesday night in a telephone vote between members of the Ministerial Committee for Legislation, with the aim of bringing it to a preliminary reading Wednesday.

The law was presented by MK Rabbi Moshe Gafni, who explained that “this is not a coercive law; it is not a law that changes existing situations, but rather, allows for consideration of this issue, as in other laws. The minister is entitled to consider the issue when granting a work permit on Shabbos.

“This law does not impose anything on anyone.”

Rabbi Gafni stressed once again that “there is no coercion; we do not want to force, we know where we live, but we say that the Knesset will allow the minister to consider Israel’s tradition.”

The law is to be linked to the government proposal of Labor Minister Chaim Katz, which is expected to be voted on next Monday.

It is Minister Chaim Katz who signs off on the permits. Katz has been authorizing permits for Israel Railways based on the company’s claims that it must do infrastructure work on Shabbos, when the trains don’t run, or risk delaying hundreds of thousands of commuters on a weekday when train lines will have to be shut down for the infrastructure work.

For several months, the chareidi parties have protested the government’s ongoing flouting of agreements and understandings reached to eliminate chillulei Shabbos, such as railway infrastructure work despite there being no pikuach nefesh involved.

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