Tel Aviv: Hallowing and Desecrating the Shabbat

Monday, January 28, 2019 |  Tsvi Sadan

In a profound scene from the movie The Frisco Kid, Avram (Gene Wilder), a Polish Jew sent to America to deliver a Torah scroll to the Jewish community of San Francisco, forces Tommy (Harrison Ford) to stay put on the Sabbath day even though they are being closely chased by hostile natives.

Unctuous Avram would not violate the Sabbath event at risk of his life. Indians or not, Sabbath has its own rhyme. It ends only when the sun sets. So Avram must hasten the sunset, and he does so by letting the sun disappear behind a high mountain. This kind of ingenuity, that the ignoble would say is cheating, is part and parcel of Jewish life.

A sober example of it can be seen in the following video, taken from the Facebook page of Yehuda Polishuk, that shows construction workers performing kiddush before commencing work on the "Judith Bridge," a new pedestrian bridge in Tel Aviv. The Judith Bridge has been at the center of national controversy after it was discovered that it would be constructed on weekends (read: Sabbath) to avoid further snarling Tel Aviv's already-infamous traffic.


Among the loudest voices in this debate has been Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai, who couldn't care less about the sanctity of the Sabbath. Huldai has insisted that the bridge will be built with or without the approval of Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz, who ordered that work be halted on the Sabbath.

The dispute between Huldai and Katz reached the Supreme Court, which ultimately ruled in favor of Huldai's position. Sabbath work on the Judith Bridge resumed last week, thus turning it into yet another example of the struggle over Israel's identity as a Jewish state.

Another proponent of the Sabbath construction work was Yair Lapid, head of the centrist Yesh Atid faction in the Knesset, who had criticized Katz and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for allegedly caving to the demands of their ultra-Orthodox coalition partners at the expense of Tel Aviv commuters.

But Lapid, Huldai and the rest who have no problem violating the Sabbath are forgetting about the workers themselves. The law states that no Jew should be compelled to work on the Sabbath. But what is a simple construction worker to do when even the Supreme Court is supporting this contravention? If he refuses to show up for work, he could lose his job. So, as seen in the video, these workers first sanctify the Sabbath, and then go violate it by building a bridge.

It's a predicament in which much of Israeli society today finds itself. Did these workers violate the Sabbath? They certainly did. Did they nevertheless sanctify it? They certainly did. In the struggle between rival politicians, it's the workers, the people, who almost always find themselves in a lose-lose situation.

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