By HaRav Yisrael Rosen
Dean of the Zomet Institute
“They had (in Egypt) ancients scrolls which they would enjoy reading from one Shabbat to the next, since they would rest on Shabbat, stating that the Holy One, Blessed be He, would redeem them. Pharaoh said: Let the labor weigh them down, and do not let them rest on Shabbat.” [Shemot Rabba 5].
The issue of commerce on Shabbat has come up once again, although it seems to me that it may not reach the main headlines. I am sorry to say that the public is quite apathetic to the subject, and that includes the religious Zionist community. A committee of general managers of government offices which was appointed by the Prime Minister has recommended allowing grocery stores to be open on Shabbat on a broad basis. It is true that the specific issue currently being discussed is a local municipal law in Tel Aviv, but everybody clearly understands that in such matters “we are all Tel Aviv!” The Chareidi Parties are threatening a coalition crisis, but the Bayit Yehudi Party remains silent. I can understand the tactical reasons for this position: Let the work be done by others...; Our main banner is the issue of Eretz Yisrael; “Bayit” – the home - includes many irreligious people, and it will be a shame to force them to leave the party, especially right now... I might be able to understand, but I cannot agree to such an approach!
I write the following lines with fear and trepidation. For the last forty years I have delved into the matter of Shabbat in both the home and in public within the framework of the Zomet Institute. On the public level, I have always believed that it would be possible to reach a legal arrangement with the secular public which appreciates the value of Shabbat as something that reaches beyond day-to-day materialistic goals. I believed that the concept of rest on Shabbat would be recognized as being good for the family and society as a whole. I believed that the “nationalists” would be proud that the nation of Yisrael bequeathed to the world the ideal of a weekly day of rest and that they would therefore lend their support to strengthening this goal.
I was also involved in an effort to write proposed laws which were brought to the Knesset (by Zevulun Orlev and others) and which by necessity included elements of accepting and ignoring undesirable activities on Shabbat . I wrote about this issue in this column for the Torah portion of Beshalach last year (number 1608), with the title, “The Shabbat Law: A Lesser Evil.” I changed my mind in the past month of Elul, the Torah portion of Shoftim (number 1640), in reaction to the dispute about performing maintenance work on the railroads during Shabbat: “Can a New Type of ‘Gashash’ do Railroad Maintenance?” I admit that all of these various proposals failed, among other things, because of rabbinical-halachic objections of the type, “We cannot waive even the slightest element of halacha.” This was contrary to the ruling by Rabbi Shaul Yisraeli, in “Coalition Halachot,” who wrote an opinion based on Torah principles rejecting the “all or nothing” approach.
Make use of a “Shabbat Goy”
I give up on any attempts to make agreements curtailing the expansion of commercial and entertainment activities on Shabbat. Thinking “out of the box” brings me to an idea that I do not like but that is one possibility. Let some branches of commerce be operated on Shabbat by non-Jews, with supervision (by non-Jews!) according to the Law of Hours of Work and Rest (Chapter 3, Paragraph 7/b.). This establishes that the weekly day of rest will be Shabbat for a Jew, and either Sunday or Friday for a non-Jew. (We must insist that the pay will be the same as for a normal workday, to avoid any temptations of additional pay for Shabbat work...)
My “fear and trepidation” about supporting this position is that we will thus be ignoring our responsibility for our Jewish brethren, the consumers of commercial and entertainment business (and evidently transportation) on Shabbat. This suggestion only takes care of the workers! The sales force and the managers in groceries, and all the workers who will be employed to provide for “the Shabbat desecrators” (and perhaps drivers too), will be non-Jews, such as Israelis who have not been converted and foreign workers who will all carry a “non-Jewish ID-card,” certified by the Chief Rabbinate! This exactly fits the law and follows the dictates of the halacha, even though it goes against the spirit of Shabbat and the vision of “the public face” of the country and the “image of the Jewish state.”
I must admit that this is a shocking proposal. However, in view of the current situation, where commerce and entertainment are wide open, and in view of the recommendations of the General Managers’ Committee, which erodes the last element that could have saved the situation (municipal laws), and in order to oppose the danger of the Supreme Court, which devoutly defends personal rights to the extreme – there is indeed no alternative to “thinking out of the box,” no matter how depressing our conclusions may be. I feel that for the benefit of hundreds (or thousands) of Jews who work on Shabbat, we must force them to rest, for the good of the values of society and the family. Let the holy values of personal rights be supplied by those who are not members of our religion. Let any Jew who has a burning desire to work specifically on Shabbat ... change his religion.
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At the beginning of this article, we quoted from the Midrash that even in Egypt Shabbat was observed, until Pharaoh decided to take it over for his own economic needs...