Rabbi Yaakov Medan
Rabbi Yaakov Medan Nissim Lev

Jerusalem needs secular residents, said Rabbi Yaakov Medan, one of the heads of the Har Etzion yeshiva in Gush Etzion, one of the leading yeshivot in Israel. In fact, he said, secular Israelis should have the opportunity to attend the cinema on Shabbat, if they so wished. “The theaters could sell tickets in advance,” he said, in order to avoid conducting commerce on the Sabbath and work the movies by special timers so as to avoid desecrating the Sabbath. Of course, he added, that is not the way the observant would spend the holy day.

Rabbi Medan, who has proposed a religious-secular agreement for Israelis that he wrote together with the secular Professor Ruth Gavison,  was speaking on a panel discussing the role of religion in Israeli life at the 10th Jerusalem Conference, sponsored by the Besheva Hebrew weekly.newspaper. Rabbi Medan was joined in his call for “secular rights” by Elisheva Mazya of the “Ruach Chadasha” organization, which encourages secular Israelis to live in Jerusalem. “The religious public is completely unaware of the needs of the needs of the secular public,” she said. Their uncompromising attitude on Sabbath prohibitions, she said, was alienating secular Israelis from having anything to do with the Sabbath, and with religion.

Sports commentator Eli Sahar, who also participated on the panel and is an observant Jew, said that the Beitar Jerusalem soccer team did not play games on the Sabbath anymore – because attendance would be very low, as the fan base of the team was traditional and “have other things to do on Shabbat afternoon.” Beitar plays its games either during the week or on Saturday night, as well as on Friday, when there is a healthy attendance. Despite this, he said he was opposed to converting Friday into an official “leisure day,” similar to Sunday in the U.S., because “teenagers will be roaming the street.” Sahar has fought for years to have all games take place during the week or on Saturday night and to prevent young religious athletes from losing out because they don't practice or play on the Sabbath.

Despite his advocating allowing selected cinemas to be open on Shabbat, Rabbi Medan said he was opposed to allowing businesses to operate on the holy day because that is literal desecration of the Sabbath.. “Anyone who does this is forcing hundreds of thousands of Jews to work on Shabbat against their will and causing businesses that are closed to lose customers.” He added that he fills his car's gas tank only at stations that do not open on Shabbat, in order to support them.

Avi Katz, founder and CEO of Hagshama Investment and owner of several large chain store conglomerates, described the organization he founded to encourage Sabbath observance, called "Sabbath, the Day of Rest.". He described how the Vardinon household linen chain had several branches open on the Sabbath before he purchased it and vehemently accused kibbutzim of violating Israeli  law by opening their malls on the Sabbath.

Deputy Jerusalem Mayor David Hadary said he was opposed to forcing either secular or religious Jews to follow the strictures of the other group. However, minority opinions must be respected, he said. “In the Givat Masuah neighborhood 60% of the residents said that they didn't believe the neighborhood needed a mikveh ritual bath.” Now, 40% of the population is being forced to leave the neighborhood for their mikveh needs. “This is unacceptable, we must find a way to ensure that minority rights are observed.”