Unrest on the Day of Rest: The Irony of the Haredi Parking Lot Protests

Shabbat is known as the “day of rest,” and the etymology of Jerusalem is often said to be “city of peace.” But this Shabbat in Jerusalem was neither restful nor peaceful. Some 28 Haredi demonstrators were arrested during riots over the opening of a parking lot. Six people were wounded.

On Friday night, thousands of Haredim went out to the city thoroughfare of Bar Ilan Street for what was billed as a mass prayer rally to protest the opening of the facility. Secular residents asserting the right to open the car park held a counter demonstration.

Then on Saturday, there were riots. The organizers of the prayer rally are billing it as a success, while insisting that they are not responsible for the riots.

So what’s the struggle all about? It’s a rather odd fight to pick, at first glance. Driving on Shabbat is prohibited though, of course, roads rarely close. So people can drive, which as we’ve just established, is the act of Sabbath desecration. It’s ironic, therefore, that the Haredi leaders are against people stopping driving — by parking.

Maybe the secular counter-demonstrators got it wrong. Perhaps a more effective demonstration would have been to take, en masse, to the streets in their cars, and fill the holy city with the noise of Sabbath desecration all through Shabbat. They could have held placards out of their windows saying “less parking equals more Sabbath desecration, not less.”

But alas, the Haredi campaign does not seem to be about a devout desire to reduce the occurrence of Sabbath desecration. After all, if you think about it, the irony is that as a result of the protests and riots, there was probably more Sabbath desecration – among both Haredim and others – than there would be on a normal Saturday even if people were parking cars.

Here are a few examples of how:

Instead of a real bid to reduce the occurrence of Sabbath desecration we have a turf war, and a very interesting one at that. Beyond the obvious religious-secular tensions coming to the surface, there’s something else going on – some internal Haredi politics – which are easy to miss.

The opposition to parking facilities being open on Shabbat has been drummed up by the hard-line body the Eida Haredit, backing more mainstream leaders into a corner. With the issue of parking forced on to the agenda, they had to come out for or against it, and could hardly come out in favor.

In short, what the Eida Haredit has done is to force more moderate elements in the Haredi community, most importantly the Haredi political parties, to get involved in a fight it is widely believed they wanted to keep out of. There was a strong indication of this process in play ahead of Friday’s “rally,” with top rabbis from the Ashkenazi and Sephardi Haredi sectors — Shalom Elyashiv and Ovadia Yosef respectively — joining the Eida in promoting the gathering.

Tagged as:

Your Comments

The Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Forward requires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not and will be deleted. Egregious commenters will be banned from commenting. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and the Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.

Recommend this article

Unrest on the Day of Rest: The Irony of the Haredi Parking Lot Protests

Thank you!

This article has been sent!