Inside Israel and the Palestinian Territories
In recent months, ultra-Orthodox Jews in Jerusalem have taken to the streets in protest over businesses operating on Saturday – the Jewish Sabbath when ritual law bans Jews from working. At times, the demonstrations have even turned violent, like a conflagration in July over a parking lot near the Old City. Most of the ultra-Orthodox ire has been directed at the Jerusalem municipality.
Last week, the Shabbat Strife took a surprising turn with some ultra-Orthodox taking aim at the world’s biggest electronic chip maker for keeping their new Jerusalem plant open on the Jewish day of rest. Though the building is located in an industrial park on the outskirts of the city, it is nearby a religious neighborhood that strictly observes the Sabbath laws.
Intel’s new electronic chip plant was inaugurated on Nov. 15, and the company said it would operate on Saturdays in accordance with its business needs and Israeli law. This announcement drew hundreds of angry ultra-Orthodox Jews who gathered outside the building. Some threw rocks at police trying to disperse the crowd.
Since last week’s outburst, representatives of the ultra-Orthodox community, with mediation from religious parliament member Uri Maklev, have been trying to reach an agreement with Intel. An aide to Maklev said a likely solution to the quarrel would be to keep the plant open on Saturdays, but allow only non-Jews to work.
In a move that may literally take the breath away from many of the world's Orthodox Jews, a group of Israel's top rabbis recently ruled that riding in what for decades have been designated as "Shabbat (Sabbath) elevators," is against Jewish law. This decision -- already been opposed by other leading rabbis -- could force many Jews who live in apartment buildings to sweat their way up staircases once a week.
The Jewish Sabbath, or Shabbat, is meant to be a day of rest. Observant Jews refrain from working, traveling in vehicles, spending money and from using electricity.
It’s hard to imagine that a quarrel over a municipal parking lot could not only lead to blows, but could possibly drag the Prime Minister into getting involved. At least, that’s what a member of the Labor party called for on Sunday, says the Jerusalem Post. Now, police are investigating threats to the Jerusalem mayor’s life.
This is the aftermath of the latest battle in the ongoing “Shabbat Wars” between ultra-Orthodox Jews and Jerusalem mayor Nir Barkat over opening a municipal parking lot on Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath (See Reuters coverage of the big protests/rioting that happened Saturday here). Hundreds of ultra-orthodox Jews rioted against the opening, while around a thousand secular Israelis rallied on Saturday in support of the parking lot opening. Now a Jerusalem City Council representative is resigning over the issue, and the former police commander has condemned Barkat for “insisting on making the wrong decisions” (Read more here).