Opinion: There is a way for Israel to operate light rail on day of rest that would be acceptable to everyone – stop making it a point of friction between secular and religious sectors and let everyone enjoy the freedom of transportation

Israel must not give up on plans to operate Tel Aviv Light Rail on Shabbat. We can certainly find a way to implement the plan without harming the uniqueness of this day, and offending the sensitivities of the religious public in Israel, which generally vehemently opposes the operation of public transportation on Shabbat.

In his column for Ynet’s sister outlet Yedioth Ahronoth, Nadav Eyal recently wrote on the issue: “From a social aspect, stopping the light rail’s operations will create discrimination between those who own a vehicle and can move freely on Shabbat and those who do not, with their transportation options being very limited.”

אירוע לציון תחילת נסיעות המבחן של קו הרכבת הקלה בפתח תקווה
Test run of Tel Aviv Light Rail (Photo: Motti Kimchi)


Economically, a calculation carried out by the accounting firm BDO following a request from the Free Israel organization (which works to change in religious laws governing secular spheres in Israel) showed that halting the light rail’s operations will cost Israel NIS 880 million per year.

We, nevertheless, mustn’t make this issue a point of friction between religious and secular sectors, since it would further distance the Israeli society from benefits of having transportation on Shabbat: a day of liberation from the day-to-day rat race; An important social movement of freedom from work and leisure for the soul; An advanced environmental concept of a nature reserve in time.

The light rail is a different kind of public transport. It’s clean and quiet. It also moves on a set path. Its operation doesn’t include the noise and pollution associated with buses. It will aid in reducing the use of private vehicles, which swarm Israel’s roads 24/7, even on Shabbat.

To aid the religious and ultra-Orthodox populations, the light rail could be operated like a Shabbat elevator – which works in a special mode, operating automatically, to satisfy the Jewish law.

הרכבת הקלה בנסיעת מבחן
Test run of Tel Aviv Light Rail (Photo: Kobe Koankes)


We could also make the light rail free of charge over the weekend, so the act of payment on Shabbat would be an issue. Haredi populations also shouldn’t hav a problem with Israel hiring “Shabbos Goys,” a non-Jew who is employed to perform duties Jews are unable to do on Shabbat, to operate the light rail.

And if after all of that the religious sector would still oppose the move, we could scrap the train going through the predominantly Haredi city of Bnei Brak, should the city’s municipality request it.

As Eyal eloquently put it: “Stopping the light rail’s operation on Shabbat has no legal basis. There’s no need to enforce on it the archaic status quo that is enforced on buses.”

As you can see, every practical religious concern of operating a light rail on Shabbat can be addressed. If politicians, however, decide not to permit the move, it won’t be due to trying to protect day of rest’s sanctity, but due to trying to satisfy their cowardly political interests.

As reported by Ynetnews