New Coalition Plans to Review Religious-Secular Status Quo

YERUSHALAYIM -
Newly appointed Minister of Religious Affairs Matan Kahana. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

In the new government, which was sworn in earlier this week under the leadership of Naftali Bennett, there is already an intention to set up a committee that will deal extensively with religion and state issues, and examine on which of them to make changes.

According to a report in Yisrael Hayom, all issues at the core of the dispute with the chareidi public, including kashrus, conversion, public transportation on Shabbos and the “Supermarkets Law” (regulating commerce on Shabbos, chalilah), will be discussed by Religious Affairs Minister Matan Kahana.

The report says that members of the new government now intend to establish a commission that will examine all these issues and expand government intervention in affected areas – despite assurances given in the past by the Yamina party that they had no intention of dramatically altering the state-religion status quo.

A number of the issues they intend to examine – for example, that of public transportation on Shabbos – go to the very heart of the debate on clashes of religion and state policy. The incoming government now wants the new commission to set new objectives in the area of state and religion, and to focus its efforts in a different direction from how things were done in the past.

A senior government official has confirmed that the government intends to advance discussion and reach agreements on matters pertaining to public shemiras Shabbos, as was attempted more than 20 years ago by Justice Ruth Gavison and Rabbi Yaakov Meidan. Their aim was to regulate, once and for all, the relationship between secular and religious behavior in the public sphere. Their conclusions were never adopted, however, due to the necessity of obtaining the consent of sectors from across the spectrum.

“Unfortunately, the Gavison-Meidan program was not adopted,” the official told Yisrael Hayom, “which is why we have reached this situation we now find ourselves in. If their program had been adopted, there wouldn’t be any problems today,” he claimed.

The government allegedly plans to do something like what has happened, for example, in the city of Charish, where an agreement was reached between the mayor and the religious local council that there would be no commerce in the center of town on Shabbos, but the mall at the entrance to the city would be allowed to remain open – in contrary to the request of Gedolei Yisrael.

Incoming Minister Kahana has already indicated, at the ceremony of the “changing of the guard” in his ministry, that he is interested in implementing changes. “Judaism has become a polarizing factor,” he said. “Judaism should be something that joins us together and unites us. We are going to implement new policies, and I want to see things being done differently from now on.”