By HaRav Yisrael Rosen
Dean of the Zomet Institute
And you shall build a siege around the city which makes war with you, until it is defeated” [Devarim 20:20]. “A siege against a city of Gentiles should not be started less than three days before Shabbat, but once it is started it should not be interrupted. This is what Shamai used to say: ‘Until it is defeated’ – even on Shabbat’” [Shabbat 19a].
The train has left the station, Shabbat was desecrated in public, and the threat against the coalition has subsided... until the next stop!
Is there a Stop at the Bayit Yehudi Party?
Last week there were huge traffic jams on Sunday, since some sections of the railroads were closed in order to perform maintenance. The press reported on the Minister of Transport’s shenanigans as an attempt to irritate the Prime Minister and to raise the ire of the Chareidim, all as part of an internal “war” in the Likud Party. I have no idea if there is any truth to this, but it is not connected in any way to the real issue, which concerns the national status of Shabbat in Israel. As one who has been involved for the last forty years in the public aspects of Shabbat through my work in the Zomet Institute, I was asked in various interviews where the Bayit Yehudi Party stands on these issues. Is the matter of Shabbat strictly an issue for the Chareidim? And the truth is that I find myself wondering the same thing. Is religious Zionism, which has found its place within the Bayit Yehudi, in principle striving to support the concept of the Jewish character of the state? Without having any other information, I replied in the interviews that evidently the leaders of the Bayit Yehudi made a political decision to leave the complex situation in the hands of the Chareidi parties, sitting on the fence (outside of the Techum Shabbat – the realm of Shabbat).
The focus on the specific issue of railway maintenance is patently absurd. In Israel in 2016, Shabbat has been chopped into little bits and opened wide from all sides – with large-scale instances of merchandising, industry and commerce, public services, entertainment, and sports. The Law of Rest and Labor, which forbids any hiring of workers on Shabbat, has become totally unraveled, and it has been trampled by the judges in Israel, who have set ridiculously low fines for violations. “Special permission” for labor on Shabbat is granted with great ease by the minister in charge (Labor or Commerce), while truth is ignored. The last minister who tried to limit the level of permitted Shabbat labor was Deputy Minister Menachem Porush (from Yahadut Hatorah), who (in the 80’s and the early 90’s) established and tried to operate a committee mandated by law (made up of representatives of the ministries of Labor and Religions). Ministers who followed, including Chareidim such as Eli Yishai and Aryeh Deri, “fled” from this concept (the illegal hiring of workers on Shabbat) out of a fear that they might be accused of blocking the wheels of economic progress in the country.
And Now to the Matter of the Trains
When the current “train crisis” broke out, I turned to various members of the Bayit Yehudi and offered to serve on a public/rabbinical committee that would handle this issue, based on my record in this realm (and also as a member of the Presidium of the Bayit Yehudi). I am sorry to say that as of the writing of these lines, I have not received an answer to my suggestion! What can I add to the discussion of this matter? Here it is:
(1) Turning to the police for approval of Shabbat labor “for reasons of life-threatening danger” is ridiculous and nothing more than an intellectual insult. The halacha is indeed very lenient when there is a possibility of a mortal danger, but only when the “person in danger is in front of us” – that is, when the dangerous circumstances already exist. If the fear of future road accidents takes precedence over Shabbat, I hereby demand that the Minister of Transport immediately stop all of his projects giving priority to upgrading the especially dangerous “red roads.” Even in times of war the Torah recommends in this week’s Torah portion not to initiate new operations on Shabbat and only to continue an operation that has already begun (as is quoted above, until it is defeated – Hilchot Shabbat of the Rambam, 2:25).
(2) The real solution for such broad economic-social distress can only be found by hiring foreign workers on Shabbat through subcontractors, which in the ideal should be owned and operated by non-Jews. If absolutely necessary, the supervisors of such work can be Jews who will not be forced to desecrate the Shabbat themselves (we in Zomet Institute have set up such solutions when it was necessary).
“Gashash” – A Non-Jew for Shabbat Labor
I can almost hear the reaction of the leftist-leaning socialist religious groups who will claim that it is not proper for a Jewish state to depend on services by Gentiles, and that to do so is “exilic.” But such a statement is not appropriate for our generation, where in any case the vast majority of the construction and agricultural workers are not Jewish. Decades ago I called (from the pages of the now defunct newspaper Hatzofeh) to establish a training school to teach people to be a “gashash” (not a scout or a tracker but an abbreviation – “G oy Shel Shabbat” – a Gentile who performs Shabbat duties). The first population group that would be perfect candidates for such training would be Bedouins, who already provide the IDF with many experts of the old-style “gashash.”