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Life

Will City Bus Service on Sabbath Save Lives?

We’ve seen major secular-religious clashes in Jerusalem this summer. Here’s a heads-up that over the coming weeks you may well be hearing about clashes in Tel Aviv.

They are likely to be angrier than past clashes. While in most past clashes, the secular side has been arguing against religious coercion and for public convenience, it looks like in the row brewing now in Tel Aviv, the secular case will be far more emotive — Sabbath desecration, it will be argued, saves lives.

This Friday afternoon in Tel Aviv, bars and cafes were busy with people enjoying the slightly cooler weather. Friday afternoon is a great time to go out, but by 6 p.m., anyone relying on buses to get home starts to head home. It may be city that never sleeps; but from Friday afternoon until nightfall on Saturday, all the buses take a 25-hour-plus nap.

Mayor Ron Huldai wants to introduce buses on the Sabbath. He’s apparently not motivated by a desire to secularize the city, but rather because of road safety statistics.

Friday night in Tel Aviv is party night, and with only one real weekend night — unlike in other countries, it’s back to work on Sunday so Saturday night isn’t good for partying — and people play hard and late. Too many drink and drive. According to municipality figures, on an a average Friday night in Tel Aviv in 2008 there were 36 accidents involving people aged 17 to 24 compared to 20-something accidents on other nights.

Huldai views introducing Friday night buses as a necessary move to save lives. The Haredim in his coalition on the city council strongly object, saying that the status quo on religion in the public sphere must be safeguarded.

There is, Huldai is likely to point out, a concept in Jewish law which allows transgression for the sake of saving life — pikuach nefesh. Orthodox Tel Avivians will argue that pikuach nefesh is not preventative, meaning that you can’t cite the principle and then do something that you think will save life in the long run — that it applies only to saving someone when they are in imminent danger.

If Huldai gives up, it will be seen as a Haredi victory and a branching out of Orthodox control to Tel Aviv. If he pushes ahead and the mainstream Orthodox don’t take up the fight, there are extremists who will — as discussed in this Forward article. Whatever happens, it looks like we’re in for a tense fall in Tel Aviv.

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