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The one thing missing from the Shabbat law debate

Shabbat candlesticks
Pohto: Flash90

Why does the media present the “mini-markets law” as a confrontation between secular and haredi people? And what have former health minister Yaakov Litzman and Interior Minister Aryeh Deri got to do with it? Whatever happens, these two will still observe Shabbat. Even if their neighborhood resembled Allenby Street in Tel Aviv or Fifth Avenue in Manhattan and all the nearby bars were open on Shabbat, and public transport operated near their homes, they would still observe the Shabbat properly.

They are not fighting for the Shabbat for their own good, it is a struggle on behalf of a large sector of society whose voice is not heard — traditional Jews. They are the ones who are trampled on and forced to be re-educated.

When we lived in Ramat HaSharon, the only kosher café in the city suddenly began to open on Shabbat. Some of the waiters asked me to speak to the owner because they did not want to work on Shabbat. They were not Orthodox or Haredi, they simply enjoyed their Shabbat at home. When I spoke to the owner, he pointed to the cash register and said “What can I do? Don’t you think that I also want to spend Shabbat with my family? It’s a question of business.”

Since then, I have been gathering similar stories: a cab driver who cannot decide whether to rest at home on Shabbat or work for the extra money, while the boss is pressuring him to work; the make-up artist who doesn’t want to work on Shabbat; the DJ who is becoming more religiously observant but still works on Shabbat; and the cashier who said, “think of me when you make Kiddush on Friday night because I have to work.”

These people are the real issue here, them and their Shabbat. Instead of asking whether a Jewish state should enforce Shabbat observance, we should be asking how to enable people to observe Shabbat. The mini-market bill has almost no practical meaning and all the sides know this. The big question is whether we will be subsumed in the culture of consumerism and become enslaved to it 24/7, or whether the revolutionary Jewish concept of a day of rest, our gift to the world, will win out.

Yet, in the past few weeks, the public discourse was only about the High Court and municipal bylaws, about coercion and liberalism. The one topic we didn’t talk about was Shabbat itself. What is this day? How has it survived thousands of years, and just how vital it is in our age of enslavement to technology.

And maybe, just maybe the powerful business tycoons, the conglomerates and the advertisers have a vested interest in portraying this struggle as being one between the forces of good and the forces of evil. Because people who stop their frantic pace of life during the week in honor of Shabbat do not bring in any income on this day. They do not go online for shopping and do not spend any money. The business world will lose if all of us discover the secret of Shabbat.

They will lose, but we will gain.


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