Shabbat Legislation – Only Through Agreement

The Sanctity of Shabbat

Whenever disputes concerning Shabbat arise, terrible sorrow fills the heart. Surely, Shabbat is intended to reveal the ideals of ‘emunah‘ (faith) and ‘herut‘ (freedom), and consequently, Shabbat is a reminder of Creation and the Exodus from Egypt, and is a sign that God gave to Israel to be His Chosen People, as the Torah says: “It (Shabbat) shall be a sign for all time between Me and the people of Israel” (Exodus 31:17). Shabbat is the source of holiness and blessing, as it is written: “And God blessed the seventh day and declared it holy” (Genesis 2: 3). As a result of the sin of ‘Chilul Shabbat‘ (desecration of Shabbat) the Holy Temple was destroyed, and we were exiled from our Land (Jeremiah 17; Ezekiel 22; Talmud, Shabbat 119b), and in the merit of keeping Shabbat, we were privileged to have inherited the Land and will merit inheriting it in the future (Bereishit Rabba 46: 9), and Israel will achieve Redemption (Isaiah 56; Talmud Shabbat 118b). How then can so many of our brethren, the Children of Israel, not keep Shabbat according to Jewish law?

The Shabbat Crisis

Over the past few generations, the Jewish people underwent a great spiritual crisis, the gravest expression of which is Shabbat desecration, which leads to spiritual and national assimilation.

Until the modern era, a Jew who publicly desecrated Shabbat was considered to have removed himself from ‘Clal Yisrael’ (the entire physical and spiritual community of Israel, past, present, and future). Therefore, our Sages ruled that a Shabbat desecrater is halachically judged as a non-Jew who cannot be counted in a ‘minyan‘ (prayer quorum), any wine he touches is forbidden to drink, and there is no mitzvah to render him ‘chesed‘ (an act of kindness) as with other Jews. However, after Shabbat desecration became a common occurrence in recent generations, some of the leading ‘poskim’ (Jewish law arbiters) ruled that as long as the Shabbat desecrator does not do so defiantly, he should not be regarded as an idolater (Melamed Le’Hoil, O.C. 29; Binyan Tzion HaChadashot 23, Peninei Halakha: Shabbat 1:15). And although this ruling holds consolation for Shabbat desecraters, it reflects our appalling situation, namely, that Shabbat is no longer an expression of Jewish identity.

Religious Coercion Will Not Help

Despite the frustration and the pain, coercion will not help strengthen the status of Shabbat – neither in the individual nor in the public sphere. The value of freedom is one of the most important elements in the Torah. Without freedom, there is no room for ‘bechira chofshit’ (freedom of choice), and no room for the great destiny imposed on man. The value of freedom was revealed during the Exodus from Egypt and was strengthened in the Giving of the Torah. The value of freedom is perhaps the most important, positive value revealed in recent generations, for which people are ready to fight for, and for which people are willing to forfeit almost all other values. Therefore, when the issue becomes a question of coercion, even traditional Jews who cherish Shabbat but do not meticulously observe it, feel threatened and join the struggle against Shabbat.

The situation is difficult. Things that were understood by the secular public three generations ago are not understood today. In the past, even Jews who did not observe Shabbat in their own homes realized that on the streets of Israel Shabbat should be observed. This was the position of the mayor of Tel Aviv Dizengoff, Berl Katznelson, and most of the secular Zionist leaders. However, after three generations of distancing themselves from Jewish tradition, this position has greatly eroded. Their successors have forgotten Jewish tradition and have become completely secular, and they are the ones leading the struggles against Shabbat and Jewish tradition. While the traditional public is fond of Shabbat, they are not prepared to have it forced upon them.

Correcting the Situation: Education and Inner Repentance

In our current situation, there is no quick solution: the crisis is so great that only a very deep and profound education, which begins with our own inner ‘teshuva’ (repentance), will be able to elevate the status of Shabbat anew. If we see that the status of Shabbat has been harmed, we must first awaken ourselves to ‘teshuva’ – to examine how we can observe Shabbat in an ideal manner – through Torah and prayers, meals and rest, so that Shabbat will not be kept ‘ke’mitzvat anashim melumada’ in other words, obediently and without rationale, out of habit, and void of content. Rather, Shabbat should be filled with the deep content of meaningful, stimulating, and enjoyable Torah study whose inspiration continues throughout the week. We must diligently pay attention that prayers are uplifting and not burdensome, that the meals are pleasurable and not oppressive and unify the family, leaving time for study, and deep conversations. As a result, the effects of such education and inspiration will continue, and the significance of Shabbat will gradually spread to all of Israel.

Between Coercion and Agreed upon Legislation

While passing laws that have a broad consensus can be of some benefit, nevertheless, as long as they are carried out by representatives of the Haredi and religious parties through means of coercion by threatening to topple the government, they are liable to do more harm than good. The only way to establish laws strengthening Shabbat is by broad agreement with representatives of the traditional public, who represent the majority of the Israeli public. Religious members of the Knesset may be the catalysts of such laws, but any such legislation must be fully agreed upon by the representatives of the traditional public so that it will express a broad national consensus.

The Position of Our Rabbi and Teacher, Rabbi Tzvi Yehudah Kook

Concerning this issue, it is important to relate the words of Rabbi Tzvi Yehudah HaKohen Kook ztz”l, in an interview with Avraham Naveh (Ha’aretz, 14 Av 5737 (1977), quoted in “Maracha Ha’Tziburit” edited by Rabbi Yosef Bramson, pg. 122):

Q: Rabbi, it is known that you were a supporter of the ‘League for the Prevention of Religious Coercion’.

Rabbi Kook: Correct. I said at the time to the members of the ‘League’ that they were absolutely right: I hate religious coercion. With what sort of justice, and with what kind of integrity can one impose religion on a person? … To my dismay, it later turned out that among the group were some who hated religion … but in the sense of opposing coercion, they are truly righteous, and there was a mutual understanding between us. Some good advice was given to the members of the ‘League for the Prevention of Religious Coercion’ around this table.

Q: Rabbi, do you think that there is religious coercion in the state?

Rabbi Kook: I once said that matters in the country are managed by the Knesset. There is no other democratic way to arrange matters. And if laws are passed by them – they should be honored; this is not coercion.

Q: But nevertheless, as a result of the recent coalition agreement, the polarization between religious and secular has increased.

Rabbeinu: We, thank God, increase love among Jews in our circles; this was the way of Abba ztz”l, which I continue. We need to increase ‘ahava‘ (love) and ‘emunah‘ (faith) …”

Other things he said in an interview with Shivty Daniel (Hatzofeh, 10 Av 5733 (1973), quoted in “Maracha Ha’Tziburit” pg. 61-62): “From my personal experience I am aware that intellectuals and people of mind and spirit are sending out feelers of ‘teshuva’ … Of course, the turning point doesn’t occur in one day… It is an internal and slow process, but it exists and influences, returning quite a few to the source of the Torah …I believe that the majority of Jews are connected to tradition, including those that seem to be the furthest away … If they saw in all Jews a model of faith and love of Israel, integrity, and benevolence, certainly the rapprochement would be immeasurably greater. Just recently, the Prime Minister (Golda Meir) said that if the tragedy of a split between religion and state occurs, the ultra-Orthodox Haredim from ‘Aguda’ would be guiltier than the secular. To my great dismay, this is the situation: those people, in their narrow, faith-limited ‘Haredi-ism’, pushing for divisiveness – are delaying the return of Jews to Torah and mitzvot.

“In a panel discussion held at my home a few years ago, one professor (Bar Hillel), a secular Jew, claimed that the Knesset’s resolutions on matters of religion are coercion of the minority over the non-religious majority. I replied to him that although these decisions were passed on the basis of coalition agreements, at their core, lay the shared responsibility for our existence as a people. The majority of Knesset members believe, like their constituents, that uprooting laws of the Torah in matters of marriage will divide the Jewish people, fuel serious controversy, and shake the foundations of our very lives. Marriage law is not coercion, but essential for life …”

These words, spoken some forty to forty-five years ago, in principle, are also appropriate today, in particular, the basic distinction between coercion and accepted legislation.

Legislation – with the Consent of the Traditional

Legislation that reflects the broad consensus of representatives of the majority of the public, whereas its harm to the minority that disagrees is marginal, is the correct way to regulate social order in all areas – including relations between religion and state. However, legislation based on pressures that fail to express broad agreement, or that have a wide agreement but severely harms the minority, and on the other hand, the majority will not be significantly harmed if not legislated, is considered coercive and intervention in the lives of individuals and groups who strongly reject it.

In order to find the right balance, the representatives of the traditional public must be full partners in all these legislative processes. And if possible, it would be preferable for them to even be the initiators of the legislation designed to express the character of Shabbat in the State of Israel.

The Passing of the Supermarket Law

In practice, even the representatives of the Haredi public themselves understood that it was impossible to implement Shabbat forcibly, and therefore the ‘Supermarket Law’ enacted is filled with holes and ambiguities in order to obscure its coercion, nevertheless, it left an impression of coercion that aroused strong opposition. In practice, the religious MKs had to support it, both in order to uphold the government and also because ultimately, they had to support Shabbat observance.

Support for Businesses that Observe Shabbat

In the current situation where many businesses in the fields of commerce and entertainment are open on Shabbat, the circumstances of businesses that observe Shabbat has become difficult – the unfair competition created against them is liable to destroy them financially. Therefore, those who cherish Shabbat have a moral duty to prefer buying from businesses of Shabbat observers. For this purpose, it would be useful to develop a user-friendly application that would allow anyone searching, to know which Shabbat-observing business is in the area.

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