The Chief Rabbi of Tel Aviv, Rav Yisrael Meir Lau, expressed "great pain" Tuesday with the decision by the Tel Aviv Municipality to operate public transport on Sabbaths.
"A feeling of deep disappointment and great pain engulfed me upon hearing the news that the Tel Aviv Yafo Municipal Council decided yesterday to recommend operation of public transport on Sabbath," he wrote Tuesday.
"This is a serious blow to the sanctity of the Sabbath that is a memorial to the Creation of the world, a memorial to the exodus from Egypt, a day of rest for all workers, and a day of spiritual uplifting and consolidation of the family.
"This recommendation is a blow to the history of the city that was founded 103 years ago… and the prominent people from its inception – like Meir Dizengoff, the first mayor; [Zionist visionary] Ehad Ha'Am and [national poet] Chaim Nachman Bialik did much for preservation of its character as a city in which the Sabbath will be honored in the public realm."
He added, "The City Council's recommendation from yesterday harms the status quo upon which the policy of the government of Israel has relied from the establishment of the state to this very day – that forbids operation of public transport on Sabbaths and Jewish holidays.
"Before the City Management discusses this recommendation, I ask the mayor, Ron Huldai, whose election was supported by thousands of Sabbath-keepers, please – reconsider and go back to the path of your predecessors, who did not allow the flame of the Sabbath to go out."
Rav Lau has asked the Interior Minister and Transport Minister to forbid this "serious breach."
Jewish Home Knesset faction chairman MK Uri Orbach reacted to the decision by saying: "Before Huldai announces, in a cheap provocation, the operation of public transport in Tel Aviv on Sabbaths, he should provide Tel Aviv with proper public transport on week days as well."
MK Moshe Gafni (United Torah Judaism) called the decision "debased and populist."
"We will not enable this deliberately damaging blow to the status quo and the sanctity of the Sabbath in the state of Israel," he warned. "There is no value to the City Council's decision other than a stain on the municipality itself."
Mayor Huldai said, in the week before the vote, that “Israel is the only country in the world where public transportation does not operate a quarter of the year, when you take Shabbat and holidays into consideration. What is someone who cannot afford a car supposed to do if they want to visit their family or go to the beach on Shabbat?"
Meretz chairperson MK Zehava Galon appealed to the Attorney General and Legal Counsel to the Government, Yehuda Weinstein, after the Minister of Transport said he would turn down the Tel Aviv Municipality's request for a license to operate public transport on Sabbaths.
"The status quo on matters of religion and state has no legal validity and the refusal by the minister to grant a license will not stand the test of the High Court," she said.
Galon said that while the secular public will not force religious people to board buses on Shabbat, "the right of people who do not possess a private car to mobility on weekends should also be respected."
She added, "a person shall live according to his faith." This is a popular misquotation of the phrase "the righteous shall live by his faith," from Habakuk 2:4, which is often used to justify a pluralistic, laissez faire outlook.