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Israeli Health minister Ya'akov Litzman resigns in protest after Jews made to work on Jewish rest day

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

On Sunday, Israeli health minister Ya'akov Litzman officially resigned, submitting his resignation letter after Jewish workers were made to work on Shabbat — the Jewish holy rest day, from sundown on Friday to sundown on Saturday — for installation of a signalling system on rail tracks in the Negev on Saturday. Shortly after Welfare Minister Haim Katz announced on Friday his intentions to deploy Jewish workers on Shabbat for the railway work, Litzman, who belongs to the orthodox United Torah Judaism party, informed Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu he would vacate his post on Sunday if Shabbat was sanctioned by the ministers.

Addressing the Israeli citizens in a video statement, the health minister said, "I cannot continue to bear ministerial responsibility as a minister of Israel while there is state-sanctioned public desecration of Shabbat, in contravention of the sacred values of the Jewish people, the status quo and the coalition agreement". Both welfare minister Haim Katz and transportation minister Yisrael Katz had expressed potential threat to passengers if the railway work was postponed.

Haim Katz said he had considered the religious beliefs and public safety before making this call. On Friday, he said, "after thorough examination, I authorised only essential work to ensure the safety of rail traffic, and if it were not carried out it could endanger lives [...] This decision reflects full consideration for the feelings of the religious public, on the one hand, and maintaining the routine of the train passengers on Sunday."

The minister also said delaying this work and doing it on a working day would cause inconvenience to many people and create traffic problems. In Litzman's statement, the health minister said, "throughout the generations the Jewish people knew it must safeguard the Sabbath as a supreme value, and even to sacrifice one's life for it. The holy Sabbath is the national day of rest, and we were raised to protect against desecrating the Sabbath."

"Throughout the generations the Jewish people knew it must safeguard the Sabbath as a supreme value, and even to sacrifice one's life for it. The holy Sabbath is the national day of rest, and we were raised to protect against desecrating the Sabbath."  — ‍Ya'akov Litzman, ex-Israeli health minister

Litzman, who became health minister in September 2015 following a ruling by Israel's apex court prohibiting him from doing the job as a deputy minister, stated he is not leaving the coalition government. On Saturday, the prime minister's office in a statement said, "the heads of the factions have clarified that they do not intend to leave the coalition" while they were trying to figure out a way "to both respect the Sabbath and ensure safe, consistent public transport", indicating the coalition government would not be dissolved by Litzman's resignation.

Netanyahu said he would take Litzman's vacated place while they try to bring Litzman back. Avi Gabbay, leader of the opposition Labor party, said, "in a modern society, if you want trains to run all week, you have to do maintenance work on Shabbat[...] Litzman is a good minister, and his resignation shows that the Netanyahu government is finished."

Litzman had discussed about working on Shabbat with religious leader Rabbi Yaakov Aryeh Alter, and was told it was wrong to work on Shabbat. Early in July, when prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu went to Strasbourg, France to attend former German chancellor Helmut Kohl's funeral, Netanyahu walked from hotel to European Parliament, and he did not deliver a speech or sign a guestbook to avoid actions of work on the rest day.

This is not the first time the Isaeli government has had work done on Shabbat, but non-Jewish labourers were used to complete the task. According to reports, the task of installing the signalling system on the tracks required skilled workers, for whom substitutes were not available at the time. Israeli Army Radio reported some German engineers were to arrive during the weekend for the signalling system installation work.


Sources