Shabbat in Harish

The broad agreement reached in the city of Harish on how to keep Shabbat in public places * Coercion will not help in the matter of keeping Shabbat in public, and agreed legislation must be reached that will include representatives from all walks of life * To deepen the connection of Clal Yisrael to the sanctity and observance of Shabbat, those who keep Shabbat need to do teshuva and deepen their oneg Shabbat

Public Question Regarding Shabbat from the city of Harish

Rabbi, Shalom! I do not know if you remember me, my name is Michael Rubinstein, I served as a community rabbi in Uruguay for many years, and I have asked you a number of questions in the past. B’ezrat Hashem, my family and I were privileged to return from shlichut in Uruguay to our Holy Land in September, and since then we have established an accommodating community for South American and Israeli Jews in the city of Harish, may it be built speedily in our days. The challenge of kiruv (bringing Jews closer to Torah and mitzvot) in Israel is great, but HaKadosh Baruch Hu helps in reaching the depths of every Jew’s hearts.

Rabbi, I turn to you on behalf of a number of rabbis in the city, council members, and community leaders concerning the issue of a municipal bylaw about Shabbat in the city of Harish. Rabbi, as you know, Harish is a young city in its beginning stages, with about 22,000 inhabitants. The social make-up of the city is diverse, and numbers about 50% of residents who do not keep Torah and mitzvot, approximately 40% Religious Zionists, and about 10% from the Haredi public. As an expression of this, the members of the municipal council are divided accordingly – 50% are religious representatives, and 50% non-religious.

Representatives of the public, from the various sides, work day and night to promote the settlement of the Land of Israel, and especially, to create unity between the various fractions. Because Harish recently received the status of a city, we do not have a municipal bylaw on the issue of Shabbat, and everyone does as he sees fit. Unfortunately, this reality has caused great damage in unity – demonstrations pitting religious against secular, and an atmosphere of sinat chinam (baseless hatred), God have mercy.

Baruch Hashem, after 12 full months of efforts in which the council members spent many hours of long conversations between the parties with the aim of formulating a decision that would reflect unity and mutual respect on the one hand, and preserve the spirit of Shabbat in the city on the other, their work paid off and they drafted a municipal bylaw agreed upon by all parties, with love and understanding. In practice, they reached agreement that the city of Harish would be closed regarding the opening of businesses, restaurants, cinemas, shows etc. on Shabbat in 95% of the city, in accordance with the prohibition set forth in an official municipal bylaw. This means that in the future, in order to repeal the law, around two-thirds of the council members would have to vote in favor, a reality that is generally difficult to create. The places that the ban will not apply to will be mainly on the outskirts of the city, a cinema and a country club that will be built in about 5-10 years.

On the recommendation of rabbis, the members of the council added two important points: 1) the phrasing was changed to “the prohibition does not apply” so that there would be no tacit permission. 2) The law will not include a permit for commerce on Shabbat in any place, including those five percent on the outskirts of the city. It is important to note that in practice, this achievement stipulates that the entire city will almost completely be closed on Shabbat, and in the public domain — “inhabited areas” – there will be almost no desecration of Shabbat, by law! We see in the law, in both the halakhic and public levels, an example and role model for a way that does not compromise the sanctity of Shabbat and the integrity and unity of the nation, alike. “Therefore, all of you are to love truth and peace.”

On a personal note, in my humble opinion, the law is an example and role model at the Israeli public level, specifically, how we can bridge gaps with the help of discourse, and find the emek ha’shaveh (compromise), so that we will be able to impeccably observe Shabbat and maintain its sanctity in the public domain, and in addition, not give up on unity of the nation, and love of Israel.

We realize that questions of public order raise the need to understand the details fully, and we would be very happy to discuss this with you, Rabbi. Our request is to receive your halakhic support, and a blessing for continued dedicated action that unites the people of Israel, strengthens the mitzvot bein adam le’chaveiro (between man and his neighbor) and bein adam le’Makom (between man and God), and preserves the character of the city, as a city that observes Shabbat.


I trust your judgment, for you are talmidei chachamim (Torah scholars), and you live there and know what is the best agreement, in the eyes of God and man. This is in addition to the fact that the agreement seems reasonable. Therefore, there is no need to talk to me on the phone, as I give you my full support.

I will add the words of “Chovot HaLevavot” (‘Duties of the Hearts’) in his introduction: “It is part of prudence not to be overly prudent”, including being wary of excessive caution from “dangerous precedents”, since many times these fears have damaged and harmed more than they benefitted.

Besides that, there is no dangerous precedent in the agreement you reached, since you reached a better agreement than is customary in most cities in the country. In addition, since you reached it with broad agreement, it will benefit the honor of Shabbat.

Comments on Bolstering Shabbat

I shortened my answer to the rabbi from Harish, to make it clear that the responsibility for determining the agreement rests with the rabbis of the communities in the city. However, here, I will expand a bit.

The grief over chilul Shabbat (desecration of the Sabbath) anywhere, and by any Jew, is terrible. Shabbat is intended for the revealing of emunah (faith) and herut (freedom), accordingly, it is a commemoration of Maaseh Bereishit (Creation of the World), and Yitziat Mitzrayim (the Exodus from Egypt), and is the ote (sign) that Hashem gave to Israel to be His Am Segulah (treasured nation), as the Torah says, “for it is a sign between Me and you throughout the ages” (Exodus 31:17).  It also is the source of kedusha (holiness) and bracha (blessing), as the Torah says “And God blessed the seventh day and declared it holy” (Genesis 2: 3). And additionally, because of Shabbat desecration, the Beit HaMikdash (Holy Temple) was destroyed and we were exiled from our Land (Jeremiah 17; Ezekiel 22; Shabbat 119b), and in the merit of its observance, we inherited the Land in the past, and will do so in the future (Genesis Rabbah 46: 9), and Geulah (Redemption) will come to Israel (Isaiah 56; Shabbat 118b). How painful it is that so many of our brethren, B’nai Yisrael, do not keep Shabbat properly.

Coercion Will Not Help

However, Shabbat observance cannot be strengthened through coercion, – neither in the individual, nor in the public sphere. The value of freedom is one of the most important foundations 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 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 Masoratim (traditional Jews) who cherish Shabbat feel threatened, and join the struggle against Shabbat.

As regards to what our Sages said, that Beit HaDin (Jewish court) has to compel people to keep positive mitzvot (Chullin 110b), this refers to a situation where people in principle accept the obligation to keep the mitvot, and that in certain situations, the Beit Din has to compel their fulfillment. However, when the public as a whole does not accept the principle of mitzvot obligation, there is no coercion. Besides that, we do not have a Beit Din with the authority to compel.

Between Coercion and Agreed Legislation

Thus, our teacher and mentor, Rabbi Tzvi Yehudah HaKohen Kook, ztz”l, publicly spoke against “religious coercion,” and even said that he hates coercion. “In what type of justice, and with what type of honesty, can religion be imposed on a person?”

In other words, legislation expressing the broad agreement of the representatives of the majority of the public, and its harm to the small minority who do not agree with it is not severe, it is the proper way to regulate the order of society in all areas, including relations between religion and state. However, legislation determined by pressures that do not express broad consensus, or that have broad consensus but cause serious harm to the minority, while on the other hand the majority will not be greatly harmed if not enacted, is considered coercion and intervention in the lives of individuals and groups who strongly reject it.

In order to find the right balance, it is imperative that all public representatives from all circles be fully involved in these legislative proceedings, as was done in Harish.

Repentance of the Religious to Shabbat Observance

Despite the importance of all these agreements, the main way to bring Jews closer to Shabbat observance is by means of deeply strengthening the meticulous observance of Shabbat. When we see the status of Shabbat has been harmed, we must first awaken ourselves to teshuva (repentance). Our Shabbat must not be empty of content, rather, full with deep content of meaningful, revitalizing, and delightful Torah study, from which enrichment continues throughout the week. We must make sure that the prayers are uplifting and not burdensome, and that the meals are pleasurable and not onerous, uniting the family and leaving time for study and deep conversations. Out of this, the circles of education and influence will spread, and the message of Shabbat will gradually extend to all of Israel.

Oneg Shabbat (Shabbat Pleasure)

Our Sages said, “Whoever delights in Shabbat is spared from imperial subjugation”; “Whoever enjoys Shabbat is given everything his heart desires”; “Whoever makes Shabbat enjoyable receives boundless territory” and merits wealth (Shabbat 118-119). From these statements of our Sages, we can see that oneg Shabbat is not easy, and this, because it is a subtle and deep mitzvah, which requires a combination of neshama (soul) and guf (body) together. As our Sages said, that Shabbat should be divided, “half for eating and drinking, and half for the beit midrash” (Pesachim 68b). These two halves should complement each other, namely, the meals interconnected to the study, and the study interconnected to the meals, and all pleasurably and relaxed.

A Taste of the World to Come

Shabbat is me’ain Olam HaBa – a kind of taste of the World to Come, by means of which kedusha (holiness), ora (spiritual light) and bracha (blessing) are drawn from Olam HaBa to Olam HaZeh (this world). Olam HaBa is not Olam HaNeshamot (the World of Souls), which includes Gan Eden (Heaven) for the righteous, and Gehinom (Hell) for the wicked, to which the soul ascends after man’s death, rather, Olam HaBa is the stage that will arrive after the world’s tikun (rectification) is completed with Techiyat HaMeytim (Resurrection of the Dead) – where the souls of the tzadikim (righteous) will reunite with the body, and together, experience eternal ascent.

In a similar way, Shabbat connects the soul and body in a proper manner. However, if someone eats, drinks, and rests without devoting half of Shabbat to Torah study, the soul is lacking, and he is unable to truly delight in Shabbat.

When we merit observing Shabbat properly, delighting with both soul and body together, we will reveal for ourselves and for the entire world the best life. Then, we truly will be able to say to everyone “Taste, and see that God is good. How blessed are those who take refuge in him!” (Psalms 34:9).

This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper and was translated from Hebrew.

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