Haredi Rabbis to Hold Rare Parley Over Shabbat Desecration
Three competing ultra-Orthodox rabbinic councils – Shas’ Moetzet Chachmei HaTorah, Degel Hatorah’s Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah and the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah of Agudas Yisrael in Eretz Yisrael – are expected to convene Thursday for a rare joint session in order to craft a pan-Haredi approach to violations of Shabbat laws by government ministries.
But sources close to the parties said the crisis is unlikely to threaten the government.
The session takes place as tensions between the ultra-Orthodox community and the government have spiked in recent months over the public face of Shabbat in Israel. The haredi United Torah Judaism and Shas parties have singled out the transportation ministry, headed by Minister Yisrael Katz, for allowing infrastructure upkeep and development work on non-essential projects like the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv train line and on the Tel Aviv light rail projects to continue on Shabbat, in violation of both Israeli law and the haredi parties’ coalition agreement with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.
In addition, haredi groups have also asked Minister of Labor and Social Affairs Chaim Katz to fine non-essential businesses like mini-markets that open on Shabbat.
In theory, the Shabbat issue could threaten the stability of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s governing coalition: With 13 of the 66 coalition seats, a mass haredi exit would likely force Netanyahu’s hand because neither the Zionist Camp or Yesh Atid parties, currently in opposition,would be willing at this stage to join a coalition headed by him.
The key to that happening, however, remains in the hands of the rabbinic leaders who are due to meet on Thursday, and observers and sources close to the parties say the rabbis are unlikely to instruct Haredi MKs to bolt.
After bowing in 2013 to pressure from Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid and Jewish Home Chairman Naftali Bennett to leave the Orthodox parties out of the government, Netanyahu took pains at that time to retain ties with United Torah Judaism and Shas and energetically sought them out in 2015 after his surprise election victory put him back in the position of being able to form another government.
Since then, Netanyahu has tried hard to keep the Haredi coalition partners happy by agreeing to a number of haredi demands, particularly revolving education and finance. Since 2015 funding for ultra-Orthodox yeshivas has skyrocketed to a record NIS 1.224 billion ($344 million) and the government has restored welfare payments to unemployed yeshiva students. The government also rolled back legislation passed by the previous government to expand the military draft to Orthodox communities, as well as requirements that Orthodox men prove they have tried to find work before they can get subsidized daycare for their children.