Tel Aviv mayor insists on violating Shabbat

Mayor Ron Huldai is insisting that the Tel Aviv light rail run on Shabbat when the service launches next year. 

By Donna Rachel Edmunds, World Israel News

Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai has renewed his push for the city’s new light rail service to run on Shabbat, in defiance of national laws banning transportation on the Jewish Sabbath.

Ten years on from breaking ground on the project the system had its first test run in Tel Aviv’s metropolitan area, with a futher test run slated to take place in the city’s southern suburb of Bat Yam.

The full service is not expected to come online for another year, but Huldai is already insisting that when it does, it run seven days a week.

Huldai told Israeli paper Yediot Aharonot that the cost of the system made a seven day service imperative.

“This is an 18 billion shekel project, obviously we need to allow passengers to use it every day of the week,” he said “There is no question that it is vital.”

And far from breaking any religious rules, Huldai insisted the service could be given the same leniency awarded to elevators that on Shabbat automatically stop at every floor, saying it’s “like a horizontal Shabbat elevator which stops at every station.”

This is not the first time Huldai has made the comparison. In 2017 Huldai confronted then Minister of Transportation Yisrael Katz over the need for a Shabbat service on the light rail at a ceremony unveiling a model car for the service.

“The train has to act like a Shabbat elevator,” Huldai told Katz. “We must have public transportation that operates on Shabbat.”

Katz responded: “You’re the mayor. It’s up to you to make the rules. Make a decision and we’ll try to find a solution.”

Huldai, a socialist politically, has made it his mission to roll out transportation on Shabbat since taking office in 1998. Last year he finally got his way, when Tel Aviv rolled out a bus service by exploiting a loophole: The service runs for free to avoid the prohibition against carrying out financial transactions on the Sabbath.

“The first ten years I didn’t have money to do it,” he told the New York Times last year. “The second ten, the minister of transportation kept promising that he was going to do it. Finally, I lost my patience, and we did it.”

Explaining his motivation, he told the Times that Zionism was intended to create “a center for the Jews, and not a center for the Jewish religion,” adding that he envisages his city to be a “model for democracy and pluralism.”

The exploitation of the loophole suggests that the light rail service, when it comes online in November next year, will also be free on Shabbat if it runs.

The Shabbat bus service attracted fierce opposition in the Knesset when it was rolled out last year. Then Deputy Education Minister Meir Porush of United Torah Judaism said: “The Sabbath is an inalienable asset of the Jewish people throughout the ages and is not anybody’s political tool. It hurts that local politicians are taking advantage of the national political situation and trampling the Sabbath in the public domain only to achieve public relations on the backs of Sabbath-observant public”

But Huldai was defiant, telling Israel’s Kan radio: “The concept of the status quo is already not a concept anymore. It doesn’t exist. The world has changed… Everyone uses this concept how they want to, but the status quo doesn’t exist anymore in public life.”