Tel Aviv, Israel, is changing. In defiance of religious law, officials there are operating public transportation services on the Jewish Sabbath. It’s another clash between religious and secular Israeli citizens.
Today, nearly half of Israel’s Jews consider themselves secular (non-religious). Yet most of the country adheres to traditional Jewish Sabbath restrictions.
Jewish law prevents work of any kind on the Sabbath, which starts at sundown on Friday and ends at sundown on Saturday. Observant Jews (those who adhere faithfully to Judaism) do not use electricity, write, do laundry, or conduct business on the Sabbath, among many other restrictions. That includes no driving on the Sabbath—including public transportation like taxis and buses.
According to Jewish law, driving on the Sabbath breaks several rules. First, operating a motor vehicle involves work, a definite no-no. Further, an engine uses fuel and creates a spark, also outlawed.
This fall, a minivan taxi service in Tel Aviv defied the law. It did so by making rides free on the Sabbath. Not charging meant no one needed to ask the Transportation Ministry for permission. Some people saw this as a way around the law.
“We as a city needed to play a trick,” admits Meital Lehavi, a deputy mayor in charge of transport. He believed his “trick” was acceptable because “the need is real. The people are voting with their feet, and they are riding these lines.”
Nitzan Horowitz, head of a secular political party, says, “We cannot maintain a modern state with the necessary demands of the public while maintaining the religion with all its rules and laws.”
Horowitz hit upon truth: Obeying rules perfectly is impossible for human beings. God has always known that. That is why He sent Jesus, who knows the intention behind every one of God’s laws. Jesus perfectly fulfilled the laws of the Old Testament (on which many Jewish laws are based). In Jesus, Christians receive grace—God’s free favor, which is not based on performance.
Lehavi’s “tricky” minivan network consists of six lines and 500 stops. During its first day, the taxis carried about 10,000 passengers. Many rode them to celebrate a “holiday of freedom.”
Opponents say the taxis show the rise of secularism. “The minute you take steps such as these, it is a head-on collision with the country’s Jewish character,” says Amital Bareli, head of a group that seeks to strengthen Israel’s Jewish heritage.
Others expect more cities to follow Tel Aviv’s lead.
“This is something that cannot be turned back,” says Roy Schwartz Tichon. He promotes Sabbath bus lines. “The train has left the station.”