Shabbat rail engineering work endangers Israeli coalition

Interior Minister threatens to resign over plans to use Jewish employees for railway maintenance work


The issue of work on Judaism’s day of rest has become the latest crisis to endanger Israel’s governing coalition as a minister threatened to resign over railway engineering work on Shabbat. 

Health minister Yaakov Litzman, a leader in the strictly Orthodox United Torah Judaism party, said last Friday that he would walk out because Israel Railways was planning maintenance during the Jewish day of rest on the track to Dimona in the Negev desert. 

He withdrew the threat when promised that only non-Jewish employees would be used for the engineering work. 

But Jews still work on other Israel Railways projects over Shabbat and Haredim parties have demanded all such work is suspended, indicating Mr Litzman’s resignation threat is not the end of the issue. 

Rail and bus services are suspended across most of Israel between Friday and Saturday nights, but maintenance and construction work has been carried out seven days a week by the main government infrastructure providers. 

Strictly Orthodox media have reported extensively on this practice, putting pressure on Haredi rabbis and party representatives to try and stop it. 

Pressure is building on Interior Minister Arye Deri, from the strictly Orthodox party Shas, to order local councils to shut down shops on the sabbath. 

Although Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has tried to accommodate the strictly Orthodox parties in his coalition, Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon and ministers in his own Likud party oppose introducing a blanket Shabbat ban on trade and infrastructure work.  

Meanwhile opposition leader Avi Gabbay has pledged to devolve decision-making on transport during Shabbat to local authorities if elected. 

The Labour Party leader said there was a need for more Jewish values in politics, but added the denial of public transport on Shabbat “is a social injustice that impacts mainly on the poor who don’t have their own transport and I am determined to change that”.  

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