Religious MKs: Don't resign from the Knesset

Shouldn't observant ministers resign in the event of Shabbat desecration by the government?

Contact Editor
Rabbi Eliezer Melamed,

מצווה. הרב מלמד
מצווה. הרב מלמד
פלאש 90

Recently, a consequential and serious question surfaced once again: How should religiously observant ministers who are members in the government coalition relate to Shabbat desecration carried out by a government agency, such as the Israel Railways corporation? Do they share responsibility for this and should they resign, as Minister Litzman did last week, or should they attempt to minimize the Shabbat desecration, but not resign?

The Logic behind the Haredi Position

The responsibility of each minister for the overall activities of the government makes him a partner in any activity carried out on behalf of the government. Consequently, when a government-owned company such as the Israel Railways desecrates Shabbat, all members of the government become partners in the transgression, and any observant minister must resign. This is the reason why for many years, representatives of the Haredi  parties who were members in the coalition refrained from becoming ministers, because members of the Knesset who support the coalition, do so by weighing the benefits and losses of supporting the coalition, but the law obliging ministers to take responsibility for all the decisions and actions of the government does not apply to them.

Understanding the importance and significance of running a government ministry, they agreed to be appointed deputy ministers, who in practice run a government ministry, but do not share the common responsibility of the ministers, because they do not have the right to vote in the cabinet meetings. Only in the wake of a decision by the High Court that deputy ministers could not run ministries, Litzman was forced to be appointed as minister, and presently, when in the name of the government Shabbat is publicly desecrated, he was forced to resign.

This is the Haredi position at its finest, and it is admirable, especially when a successful minister like Yaakov Litzman is prepared to give up his status for the sake of a sacred principle.

Nevertheless, the accepted position of most Religious Zionists is different. Before we examine it, I will summarize a few halalhic issues relevant to this topic.

The Obligation to Protest, and the Prohibition of Participating in a Sin

From the general mitzvot of “Love your neighbor as yourself” and the mitzvah of mutual responsibility, is also derived the mitzvah to rebuke our fellow Jews who commit a sin, so that they do not falter in their transgression, as written in the Torah: “Do not hate your brother in your heart. You must admonish your neighbor, and not bear sin because of him…You must love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:17-18).

When there is a chance that the rebuke will have an influence – a person who refrained from rebuking is considered partner in the sin (Shabbat 44b). Even when there is no chance that the rebuke will have an effect one is obligated to rebuke, in order to express protest against the transgression, and it is sufficient that a person’s position of disproval of the sin be made known. If one has not voiced his position, it is enough to express one’s protest without reaching any confrontation, as our Sages said (Yevamot 65b): “As one is commanded to say that which will be obeyed, so is one commanded not to say that which will not be obeyed” (R’ma, O.C. 608:2; M.B. 9).

The mitzva of rebuke does not apply to desecrators of Shabbat who do it publicly, maliciously and defiantly, since they have removed themselves from Jewish brotherliness (Biur Halakha 608:2, s.v. “aval”). However, since they are Jews, when possible it is a mitzvah to bring them closer to repentance but not in the manner of reproach since they do not accept the basic principles of the Torah of Israel, and concerning this, our Sages likewise said that one is commanded not to say that which will not be obeyed.

Partnership in a Business that Violates Shabbat

When a person is a partner in a business or a store with a non-Jew, he is obligated to close it on Shabbat, and even if the non-Jew wants to work for himself, the Jew must prevent him from doing so, for our Sages forbade a Jew to gain benefit from the work that a non-Jew did for him on Shabbat. Nevertheless, a Jew and a non-Jew are permitted to make an agreement at the time of purchase of the business or store, according to which the business is owned solely by the non-Jew on Shabbat, on Sundays solely by the Jew, and co-owned on the rest of the week, but since such a situation may lead others to suspect they are doing something forbidden, they must publicly publish their agreement (S.A., O.C. 245:1-3).

When the co-owner operating the business or store on Shabbat is a Jew who desecrates Shabbat, the prohibition is exceedingly more severe, since the other Jew becomes a partner in the prohibition of Shabbat desecration. Therefore, there is no ‘heter‘ (rabbinic allowance) to sell him the store or business for every Shabbat.

The Prohibition of Benefiting from Shabbat Desecration

In order to fortify the honor of Shabbat, and prevent Jews from participating indirectly in Shabbat desecration, our Sages enacted a prohibition not to benefit from work performed on Shabbat, even if it was done by mistake. If it was done deliberately, it is forbidden for anyone for whom the work was done for to gain benefit from it forever. And if the work was done for the public, it is forbidden for the entire public to benefit from it forever (S.A., 318:1; Peninei Halakha: Shabbat 26:7).

Apparently, according to this, if Jewish laborers worked on setting the railway tracks on Shabbat, it would be forbidden to travel on them forever. In this case, however, when representatives of the religious public requested, pleaded, implored, and even threatened to prevent laborers from working on Shabbat, but in spite of this, work continued on Shabbat, the religious public is not guilty of the work done against their will, and is permitted to travel on these tracks after Shabbat. All the more so when the representatives of the railroad company claim that they did not transgress a prohibition, since this is a matter of ‘pikuach nefesh‘ (the saving of lives).

The Shabbat Law in the State of Israel

In general, Shabbat was determined by law as the national day of rest of the State of Israel, in which employees cease working. However in addition to that, it was determined by law (in the year 1951), that the Ministry of Labor would grant work permits on Shabbat in order to prevent harm to state security, the economy, or essential public needs.

In other words, even for needs that are not ‘pikuach nefesh’ which are prohibited from being performed on Shabbat according to Jewish law, the Ministry of Labor grants work permits. The permits are granted within the framework of the accepted status quo, such as the operation of public transportation in Haifa as it had operated even before the establishment of the state. Work permits are also granted as a result of various public pressures, with permits not being given in matters in which the religious community is affected, while in matters where the religious community is relatively uninvolved but are more essential for the secular public, a greater amount of permits are granted – for example, the Israel Broadcasting Authority which operates on Shabbat based on public pressure, which was expressed in the secular court’s decision.

Separate or Undivided Communities

The Haredi public’s position regarding the government is based on the position of the rabbis who initiated and supported the separation of the Jewish communities in Europe so that observant Jews would not be partners with transgressors. However, many of the ‘Gedolei Yisrael’ (eminent rabbis) believed that the communities should not be separated, because there is a fundamental difference between individuals who choose with whom to form a partnership who are obligated to refrain from cooperating with Jews who desecrate Shabbat or commit other transgressions within the framework of the partnership, and public frameworks in which individuals are included against their will. There are two reasons for this: 1) because the fact of living together in one place requires them to cooperate in all common matters, such as building roads, and creating a water supply, and sewage, electricity, medical, and police systems. 2) Because of the fact that we are members of one people, and even if on a private level the mutual responsibility between us has been infringed in regards to numerous and significant mitzvot, nevertheless, the general, mutual responsibility always exists. This is similar to members of a family who always remain related, and an example of this is that they are obligated to sit ‘shiva’ for one another.

The first reason can be annulled by moving to a deserted island, and undermined by creating a separate community. Still, the separation would be partial for certain matters, since all matters involving the entire public, such as transportation, water and sewage would remain in the hands of the majority of the public. At the very most, a separate community can say: We will take part only in matters where we have a separate community, but in common matters, we will not take part, and whatever the public does is without our partnership and responsibility. This is the Haredi position.

On the other hand, the prevailing position among the majority of the ‘Gedolei Yisrael‘ is that since we are one nation, it is forbidden for us to separate, and consequently, the two reasons require us to be partners in bearing the burden of all public affairs.

And if in the Diaspora many ‘Gedolei Yisrael’ instructed not to separate communities, and as the Netziv wrote (‘Meshiv Davar’ 1:44), that separation is “as difficult as a sword in the body and existence of the nation,” how much more so in the state of the Jewish people, in the Land of Israel.

Protest is Measured According to the Benefit

Seemingly, one could reply: Indeed, from the aspect of mutual cooperation, it is forbidden to separate – we are partners against our will because we are all members of the same people and live together in the same country, therefore we will vote in elections. But still, from the aspect of the mitzvah to protest, we are obligated to refrain from participating in the government.

However, the mitzvah of protest is dependent on its benefit, and therefore, when the protest will not be hearkened to, it is a mitzvah not to voice it (Yevamot 65b), because the mitzvah is not to carry out the protest, rather, it stems from the mitzvah of “Love your neighbor as yourself”, and therefore, the main thing is to be concerned for the welfare of our fellow Jews. Similarly, we find that our Sages enacted not to join an ‘am ha’aretz’ (someone negligent in their observance of the mitzvot due to their Torah ignorance) in a ‘zimun’ (responsive introduction to Grace after Meals), out of protest against him (Berachot 47b), however, in the days of the Rishonim, the directive to join them in the ‘zimun‘ was declared, because if they were distanced, they would move farther away from Torah and mitzvot (Tosafot, S. A., O.C. 199:3). Therefore, the entire point of the protest was for their benefit, so that if they were not allowed to participate in the ‘zimun‘, they would try harder to connect to the Torah. But if we see that the protest has no benefit, but rather causes harm, it is better to allow them to participate in the ‘zimun‘.

The Proper Policy in Shabbat Observance

In light of this, the proper policy is to increase cooperation between the religious community and traditional Jews, who are the clear majority of the Jewish public in the State of Israel, and include them in taking responsibility for the public character of Shabbat in the State of Israel, in order to create a framework that gives maximum respect to the sanctity of Shabbat and its halakhic observance.

The general rule is that the more public a matter is – let alone, state oriented – the greater the need is for Shabbat observance, whereas when it comes to the lives of individuals, less intervention is required, as we have previously learned that it is a mitzvah not to say that which will not be obeyed.

It should be noted that the Haredi position has become more moderate over the years, and we now see that as a result of cooperating in the affairs of the state, they have expressed a resolute position and a strong protest that has facilitated advancement and reform, just as Minister Litzman’s resignation led to legislative amendments in the right direction. In other words, in a closer look, we find that the differences between Haredi and National Religious positions are narrowing favorably, with the Haredim learning about brotherhood and responsibility for ‘Clal Yisrael’ from the National Religious, while the National Religious learn from the Haredim about having more courage in adherence to principles.

This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper, and was translated from Hebrew. Other interesting, informative, and thought-provoking articles by Rabbi Melamed can be found at: http://revivimen.yhb.org.il/






top