Israel debates adding Sunday as 'day of rest'

Wednesday, July 06, 2011 |  Ryan Jones

Israel's political leadership was embroiled in a heated debate this week over whether or not to make Sunday an official "day of rest" in the Jewish state.

No, that does not mean the Jews are accepting the doctrine held by some Christians that Sunday has replaced Saturday (Shabbat) as the biblical day of rest.

Rather, Israelis are becoming tired (literally) of having a five-and-a-half-day work week (Sunday through midday Friday).

Israeli business leaders and the lawmakers who support them want Sunday to be added to the weekend, as that will mean gaining a lot of new weekend business from the Orthodox Jewish community. Orthodox Jews will not spend money on the biblical sabbath.

Business leaders involved in export businesses also argued that working on Sunday is largely pointless, since all of their Western clients and partners are not working on that day.

But Israel's Treasury countered that making Sunday part of the weekend will cost the government an enormous amount of money by requiring additional weekend overtime payments to those in the health care industry.

Instead, Finance Minsiter Yuval Steinitz suggested officially making Friday part of the weekend. Israelis are already largely unproductive on Fridays, and since Shabbat begins on Friday evening, the proposal means adding only two more hospital shifts to the weekend overtime schedule.

Steinitz's position was backed by Arab Muslim citizens of Israel, but for a different reason. Friday is the Muslim day of rest, so making it an official national day of rest makes sense, as Islam is Israel's second largest religion.

Whatever solution is eventually decided on, it seems Israelis will soon be able to take it a little more easy on the weekends.

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