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Compromise reached with ultra-Orthodox parties regarding Sabbath policies

Israeli Health Minister Yaakov Litzman, who is also chairman of the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism party, waves to journalists after handing in his resignation to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on November 26, 2017
“The coalition is strong and stable,” Netanyahu said, as a compromise was reached.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu managed to reach consensus with ultra-Orthodox factions in his government regarding policy on the Jewish Sabbath (Saturday), averting a potential coalition crisis.

“The coalition is strong and stable,” Netanyahu said according to Israel’s Hadashot News. “We will continue to work together for the citizens of Israel.”

According to the agreement as reported by Hadashot News, mini-markets in the largely secular city of Tel Aviv will be allowed to remain open on the Sabbath, and league soccer games will be permitted to take place on Saturdays as well.

Over the past week or so, the most pivotal policy issue regarding the Sabbath has been maintenance work performed on the infrastructure of Israel’s railway system. Member of Knesset (MK), Yaakov Litzman from the Ashkenazi ultra-Orthodox faction, United Torah Judaism (UTJ) resigned from his post as Health Minister earlier on Sunday in protest of 100 or so Jewish employees having conducting maintenance on a railway line in Israel’s Negev region this past Saturday.

“In light of the great pain caused by the government’s work (during the Sabbath) carried out openly by Israel Railways for some time now, I’ve decided to resign my position as health minister,” Litzman had said in a statement.

“I cannot continue to bear ministerial responsibility as a minister of Israel while there is state-sanctioned public desecration of Shabbat, in contravention of the sacred values of the Jewish people, the status quo and the coalition agreement.”

The compromise will allow for maintenance work to take place on Israel’s railway system, during Saturdays.

Moreover, Minister of Labor and Welfare, Haim Katz (Likud) will assume responsibility for decision-making on public work projects that are performed on the Sabbath while taking into consideration traditional Jewish values, the welfare of the worker and disruption of public life.

Israel Bardugo

In explaining their decision to authorize for 100 Jewish employees to work on the railway system during the Sabbath, Minister Haim Katz along with Transportation Minister, Yisrael Katz (Likud) had said that delaying the maintenance would have made the railway system temporarily less safe and would have caused disruptions in the railway service throughout week.

According to the current compromise, Litzman, who no longer holds the position of Health Minister, would be able to operate as the health minister while holding the title as Deputy Health Minister. The coalition for its part will work on passing an amendment to one of Israel’s Basic Laws that will legally permit for such an arrangement to take place.

Litzman originally served as Deputy Health Minister in the current coalition while essentially exercising full ministerial power. The UTJ, objecting to Israel’s secular identity, had previously avoided assuming full ministerial titles. After Israel’s Supreme Court ruled in August of 2015 that any deputy minister could not legally operate as a top minister, the UTJ’s Council of Torah Sages ruled several days later that Litzman could assume the title as Health Minister.


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