The Knesset’s Subcommittee for Public Transportation held a series of meetings on Wednesday, August 9, to discuss public transportation on the Jewish Sabbath (Shabbat, Friday evening to Saturday night). Subcommittee Chairman MK Dov Khenin (Hadash – Joint List) opened the discussions by saying that he believes Shabbat “should not be turned into a regular weekday and everyone wants a day of rest, but this does not mean that we shouldn’t have to find solutions for people who want to travel from place to place on Shabbat.”
“We must come up with a new arrangement for the public sphere on Shabbat, one to replace the current status quo, which is no longer reasonable. Those persons who don’t have money [ to buy or rent a car] are destined to be stuck at home. If the Ministry of Transportation is incapable of dealing with this issue, then I suggest it be transferred to the municipalities. There is no reason that Tel Aviv and Haifa should be run like Bnei Brak.”
Maxim Okanin, Deputy Mayor of Arad, said each municipality should be able to decide whether to operate public transportation on Shabbat. “Operating public transportation on Shabbat will drastically improve the residents’ quality of life,” he said, adding that what is good for Bnei Brak is not necessarily good for Arad.
Rabbi Uri Regev, who heads Hiddush – for Religious Freedom and Equality – said that, according to a survey conducted by his organization before the meetings of the subcommittee, 73% of the adult Jewish public in Israel supports public transportation on Shabbat, and over the years there has been a steady increase in the number of people who do so.
Activists in initiatives for public transportation on Shabbat like “Shabus,” “Noa Tanua” and “Yambus” participated in the Knesset subcommittee meeting. According to Khenin, these organizations are part of a “genuine public protest which indicates a need for public transportation on Shabbat.”
Omer Shechter, a member of the Rosh Ha’Ayin City Council and one of the initiators of “Shabus” in the city, said the initiative’s main goal is to provide transportation services to people “whose only ‘sin’ is that they belong to the bottom three deciles.”
MK Israel Eichler (United Torah Judaism) said those who are operating private transportation services on Shabbat are breaking the law. “There is a horrible injustice here, because on weekdays the public transportation monopoly, which does not provide adequate services, is forced on the public, while on Shabbat [there are no rules],” he said. “The only thing that`s left of Shabbat`s uniqueness is that there is no public transportation, and if there is a plan to cancel this as well, then we can declare the establishment of a secular democratic state for all its citizens, without any status for the Jewish religion.” Roy Schwartz Tichon, founder of “Noa Tanua,” asked MK Eichler “How can you deny public transportation on Shabbat to 70% of the country`s citizens who want it?” In response, MK Eichler said, “First we need to have adequate public transportation five days a week; then you can talk about Shabbat.”
MK Khenin said there is no rational justification for the current situation and that a major change is needed. “We’re sending a message that those who have money can do what those who do not have money can’t do, and there is no justification for this,” said the subcommittee’s chairman. “Operating public transportation on Shabbat is vital for the development of the public transport system in Israel,” he stated.