Tel Aviv Shabbat bus plan sparks debate

By Jennifer Lipman, February 21, 2012

Public buses could soon be a regular sight in Tel Aviv on Shabbat.

It follows a decision by Tel Aviv City Council to approve a resolution for public transportation to run in the city on Saturdays, as already occurs in parts of Haifa and Eilat.

The vote, which was opposed by seven members of the 20-strong council, is the latest example of the conflict between the religious and secular communities in Israel.

Chief Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau said that allowing buses to run in the city represented "a severe blow to the holiness of the Shabbat". A Knesset member for the United Torah Judaism Party derided the proposal as "a stain" on Tel Aviv.

But Tel Aviv mayor Ron Huldai has criticised the fact that Israel is the sole country that closes its public transport for such a sizeable chunk of time. He said: "Those who don't want to get on a bus can choose not to board it.

What would one do if he cannot afford to purchase a vehicle and seeks to visit his family on Shabbat or spend time at the beach?"

The vote does not automatically change the "status quo" of buses being suspended in Tel Aviv during Shabbat. The city council needs a permit from the Transportation Ministry in order for the service to run, although if this is refused there are plans to create an independent transportation service in the city.

According to a spokesman for the Transportation Ministry, "there is a decades-old status quo regarding operation of public transportation on Shabbat, and [the ministry] does not intend to violate it."

Last updated: 4:30pm, February 21 2012