Are parking wardens an instrument of God?

By Simon Round, April 4, 2008

It’s funny how some trivial things can be much more annoying than quite serious things. For example, a few months ago I got a very nasty vomiting bug, as did my two-year-old son Alex, which meant that for one complete night I was either throwing up or clearing up sick.

I treated the whole episode with equanimity — after all, it was just one of those things that happen to all of us occasionally. Then a couple of months later I got a parking ticket — this put me into a rage. It was unjust, it was unfair, plus I lost the ticket and could not find it in time to pay Barnet Council the penalty within the permitted 14 days, so the amount outstanding doubled from £30 to £60.

Then I had another thought. What if I was being punished by God? This may sound a little melodramatic, particularly as I am not the most religious of people. But the fact is that this was the first parking ticket I had received for ages. And I got it on the very day I drove to synagogue to attend a family barmitzvah. This poses several important questions.

Is our God the kind of God who is inclined to take direct action against those who drive to shul on Saturday? I know he used to smite people down, send plagues and so forth but I assumed he didn’t do that kind of stuff any more. If it was actually a punishment from heaven, I find it interesting that He uses traffic wardens as instruments of His will, when I had always assumed they worked for the other side.

Also, if it turns out that driving to synagogue really is an offence punishable by a £60 fine, what does that say about the various interpretations of the halachah?

I was attending a Reform shul which generally has a more relaxed approach on the issue of travelling on Shabbat. So perhaps I should take this as a sign that the United Synagogue’s harder line on the use of cars on Shabbat is the one I should pay attention to.

On the other hand, given that a large proportion of Reform shul-goers do use their cars on Shabbat, could it just be that Barnet Council sends more traffic wardens out in expectation of a Saturday morning bonanza? On reflection I think this explanation is more persuasive. After all, there are thousands of Jews up and down the country who don’t make the effort to go to shul, by car or foot. Many of these people will not have had a parking ticket in years, so where is the justice in that?

Surely the Almighty would prefer the more secular among us to make the effort to go to synagogue every now and then, even if this means driving — particularly if it is your cousin’s big day. And then again, perhaps not. It’s so hard to say.

Anyway, I do find it spooky to say the least that since the parking-ticket-outside-shul incident, I have received another one. It was also on a Saturday and it also issued by a Borough of Barnet traffic warden. On this occasion I could not claim that I was davening when the ticket was stuck under the windscreen wiper, but I could claim pikuach nefesh — the children were fighting so much I thought there was a chance they might do serious harm to each other so I took them out to buy posters for their rooms (educational ones, mind).

Anyway, here is my dilemma. Should I repent for my Shabbat sins and pay up or should I write a stiff letter to Barnet Parking Control? I’m not sure, but one thing is for sure. If I ever make it to the great celestial car park I’m going to make sure I remember to pay and display.

Last updated: 4:32pm, September 23 2009