In First, Tel Aviv Area Municipalities Instate Public Transportation on Shabbat, Despite Criticism

Photo by Kobi Richter/TPS on 18 November, 2019

By Arye Green/TPS • 18 November, 2019

The municipalities of Tel Aviv, Givatayim, Kiryat Ono and Ramat Hasharon on Monday announced they will launch public transportation on Shabbat, starting this weekend.

For the first time, the initiative will connect Israel’s central Metropolitan Area on Shabbat, a highly controversial move by the secular-majority cities.

The project will include six lines that will transport people for free. The project will cost NIS 12.5 million a year, and the cost is expected to rise as other cities join and the network expands.

The project was met with fierce criticism, primarily from Israel’s religious population, as transportation on Shabbat is prohibited according to Jewish law.

Education Minister Rafi Peretz said the plan “violates the status quo,” referring to the generally accepted understanding in Israel regarding religious-secular relations.

“Since Israel was established, the public domain has been dictated by the status quo. This was a delicate balance between the various populations: religious, ultra-Orthodox, secular and traditional. Unfortunately, many mayors, especially in the Gush Dan area, have recently decided to violate the status quo and commence public transportation on Shabbat,” he wrote in a post on Facebook.

Minister of the Interior Aryeh Deri said he would attempt to outlaw public transportation on Shabbat in the upcoming government, bringing an end to the municipality’s initiative.

However, some of Israel’s secular population has called for public transportation for many years, claiming that the cities that are made up of a secular-majority population deserve to shape their own public domain however they see fit.

Mayor of Tel Aviv Ron Huldai said the opportunity to move freely throughout the entire week is a fundamental right that has not been granted by the government, forcing local government to step in.

“The opportunity to move from one place to another throughout the week is a fundamental right. Our project is designed to fulfill the demand of a growing population in Israel to do so, in the absence of national public transportation. I hope the Israeli government will expand this service to all residents of the country in the future,” he said.

Various private initiatives for mass transit on Shabbat have been offered to the Israeli public in the past, none of which gained enough customers to render them financially viable. The new initiative will be funded by the municipalities, constituting a new model that may prove more resilient as time goes on.

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