The New Sabbath According to Orlev

Two new laws will change the face of Israeli society and the lives of both observant and secular Israelis if they pass in the Knesset.

Hana Levi Julian ,

Knesset Member Zevulun Orlev is stepping onto a tightrope by proposing two new laws that could change the face of Israeli society.


The pair of bills written by the National Union/ National Religious Party  Chairman are also likely to reawaken the age-old debate over Israeli laws pertaining to the Sabbath.  


One bill would change the length of the traditional Israeli weekend; the second would change its character.  If passed, they will also change the way Sabbath is traditionally observed in Israeli society, both in the religious and secular populations.


One of the bills would end the practice of beginning the regular work week on Sundays. Instead, the weekend break which traditionally begins on Friday afternoon would not end until Monday morning.


Industry and trade will, if the law passes, no longer be completely forbidden on the Sabbath,  nor would public or state services, as they are at present. This would allow an increase in recreational and cultural activities, provided they would comply with noise regulations.


The main purpose for the change, said MK Orlev, is to allow Sabbath-observant Jews to have a day to travel and enjoy cultural and recreational activities as a family.  Due to the six-day work week, this currently causes hardship for the religious population.  A worker must use a paid (or unpaid) vacation day and a student must skip school in order for the family to “take the day off” together.


The second proposal would change the public transportation system.


If passed, the new law would allow limited public transportation to become available on the Sabbath.  At present public transportation is permitted only six days a week – Sunday through Friday.  


The new Sabbath lines would be serviced by vans similar to the private “sheirut” or mini-buses run by private companies along the regular public bus routes. None would be allowed to travel through religious communities or neighborhoods.


MK Orlev also recommended establishing a committee to oversee the development of Sabbath services under his proposals.


According to the Jerusalem Post, a number of “senior religious Zionist rabbis and senior members of the Knesset” are supporting the proposals; however, MK Orlev could not be reached to confirm the claim.


Both bills are expected to face an initial Knesset hearing in the near future.


Reactions from Sabbath-observant Knesset members were not long in coming, however. 


Minister Eli Yishai, Chairman of the Sephardic religious Shas party, slammed the proposals and the NU / NRP parties, saying, "Any initiative by parties calling themselves religious and turning reform on Shabbat (Sabbath) matters should be foiled."


Meretz Knesset Member Zahav Gal-On had a different take on MK Orlev's motivation for proposing the measures, saying it was a red herring.  "As long as the religious-rabbinical establishment dictates how we should marry, divorce and what we should eat," she declared, "all these proposals are insignificant."