Shabbat Divisions Cross Social Divides

Opinion on public transportation on Saturdays is not clearly divided along sectarian lines; many secular Israelis also say 'no.'

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Gabe Kahn.,

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Israel news photo: Flash 90

Israeli pundits and lawmakers have been seeking to stoke sectarian tensions over a recent call by Tel Aviv's city council to allow public transportation on the Sabbath.

However, a recent survey demonstrates that the gnashing of teeth fails to take into account that there is considerable opposition to public transportation on Saturdays in the secular sector as well, even as a notable number of religious Israelis say "let the buses run."

A survey entitled "Sabbath and the Public Domain" conducted by Prof. Avi Degani, president of the Geocartography Group, revealed 51% of Israel's population supports public transportation on the Sabbath, and 55% of respondents believe businesses should be allowed to open on Saturday.

As to the question, "Should the operation of public transportation on Shabbat be allowed?" 51% of respondents answered yes, 43% said no and 6% had no opinion on the subject.

Degani explained that, considering 43% were opposed and 6% had no strong opinion, Israel's public was evenly divided on the issue of public transportation running on Saturday.

However, segmenting the data revealed that opinion was not as starkly divided along sectarian lines despite the claims of demagogues on both sides of the debate.

While only 10% of the hareidi public supported running public transportation on Saturday, 38% of the national religious public and 35% of the traditional public also supported it.

In other words, Degani noted, 51% support for public transportation on Saturday's could not be obtained without religious respondents answering yes. 

"Note that a considerable portion of the secular public opposes public transportation on Shabbat. There is some divergence over the sanctity of Shabbat in religion, and Shabbat as a day of rest on which one eschews commerce and labor," Degani said.

"But there is a clear consensus that the Shabbat is a symbol of the unique cultural traditions and historical heritage of the Jewish people, who continue to observe them," he added.

In terms of businesses being allowed to operate on Saturday - namely, that an owner of a company or business can decide whether to open on Saturday insofar as it is ensured through law that the rights of every worker who chooses not to work on Shabbat are protected - 55% of respondents answered yes, 40% answered no, and 5% had no opinion.