Tel Aviv suburb votes to operate public transportation on Shabbat

JERUSALEM (JTA) — A Tel Aviv suburb has approved operating public transportation on Shabbat.

The City Council of Ramat Gan, a municipality in central Israel, approved the measure on Tuesday by a vote of 15-6.

In a harbinger of the religious freedom debate that will infuse the campaign for the September elections, Avigdor Liberman, head of the secular right-wing Yisrael Beiteinu party, applauded the decision and called on other municipalities to follow suit.

In Israel, buses and trains in general do not run in Jewish-majority cities on Friday night and Saturday before sundown as part of the “status quo,” a doctrine that regulates the public relationship between the religious and secular positions. It was reached between the haredi Orthodox community and David Ben-Gurion before the formation of the state.

A statement from the haredi Orthodox United Torah Judaism party called the decision “a shameful and disgraceful move” that “ignor(es) the feelings of tens of thousands of religious residents of the city.” The party, headed by Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman, vowed to “act in cooperation with lawyers and jurists to prevent implementation of the decision to harm the holy Shabbat and the status quo.”

According to the legislation, the city-sponsored transportation will include two routes that run to the beach and other recreation areas. The routes will avoid areas that would upset the Sabbath-observant community.

Some private bus lines run through certain Israeli cities to allow non-Orthodox Jews to get to the beach and other places of entertainment.