Public Transportation on Tel Aviv’s Sabbath: Ecologically Smart or Defiling Religious Law?

"tel aviv bus saturday"Public transportation shuts down completely on the Jewish Sabbath across Israel, but now Tel Aviv (Israel’s secular capital) wants to allow buses within the city on Saturdays.

It’s a bit of a paradox: Saturday is the one day that Israelis universally have off from work, but it is also the only day that public transportation doesn’t operate.  And so if you are a secular Israeli without a car (for either financial or ecological reasons), there is no way for you to get around and enjoy your day off.  (In Tel Aviv you can still take advantage of the city-wide bike sharing system, but that’s not always practical.)

The reason for this weekly public transportation hiatus is religious.  The Jewish Sabbath is designated as a day of rest, and Orthodox Jews observe it by abstaining from driving or riding in motorized vehicles, using electricity, and conducting monetary transactions, among other things.  Which is fine for Orthodox Jews, but Tel Aviv is largely secular and its residents would like an inexpensive, eco-friendly way to get around on the weekends.

The issue recently came to the forefront when the Tel Aviv Municipality voted 13-7 in favor of adding buses on the Sabbath on February 20th.  It is not entirely up to the municipality, however, and the Israeli Transportation Ministry must now approve or reject the decision.

The Transportation Ministry has already told local media that the Tel Aviv Municipality’s decision violates the “status quo” of the balance of power between the religious and the secular regarding public domain issues.

Tamar Zandberg, a member of the Tel Aviv City Council, said that “it should have happened years ago, but because of political arrangements it was taboo and no one would discuss it, which is absurd.”

Tel Aviv’s Chief Rabbi, Israel Meir Lau, feels differently and wrote to Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai that “this decision taints the history of Tel Aviv, which was founded 103 years ago as the first Hebrew city.  [The vote is] a severe blow to the sanctity of Shabbat – a day of spiritual uplifting and rest for all workers.”

The decision has neither been approved nor rejected yet, and it remains to be seen whether buses will grace Tel Aviv’s Saturday streets.

:: Forward

Read more about public transportation around the Middle East:
Fast Forward Asks, “What is the Best Mode for Public Transportation in Lebanon?”
Public Transportation Takes Flight in Dubai
Public Transportation Day 2008: Still Stuck in Traffic

Image via: zeevveez

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3 thoughts on “Public Transportation on Tel Aviv’s Sabbath: Ecologically Smart or Defiling Religious Law?”

  1. Dexter Quinn says:

    Different religions, different beliefs about the Sabbath. I encourage your readers to check out this video that I have read about the Sabbath. Here is the link where you can grab a copy of it:

  2. The Inkling says:

    I don’t know that it’s very eco-friendly to have more motorized vehicles on the road on Shabbat. I think I would feel better if they were electric busses or something, but I don’t think having the busses run on a day they normally wouldn’t will cut down on the emissions.

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