Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Should There Be an Open Parking Lot in Yerushalayim

Continued from this post

Imagine for a moment Bibi Netanyahu and Mahmoud Abbas sitting around the table at Camp David. After days of strenuous negotiations, they've finally reached an agreement an nearly every critical issue; every issue except one: Kiryat Sefer. The Palestinians insist that there can be no peace deal without the Jewish State abandoning the Chareidi city of 40,000. Netanyahu demurs. It's a pretty big city, and he can't make that decision on his own. So he decides to put it to a vote of the citizens of Israel: Do we keep Kiryat Sefer, or do we give it back to the Palestinians and make peace?
Who wants to guess what the outcome of that vote would be?
Now imagine what would happen if people thought about Yerushalayim the way they do about Kiryat Sefer.
At the International Rabbinic Conference sponsored by Tzohar that I attended yesterday, one of the sessions focused on the issue of p'sak halachah. The fascinating discussion that I participated in focused on the question of how broader perspectives can influence decisions of psak halachah.
During the conversation (which wandered widely), I noted how sometimes we in the religious Zionist community focus on issues that are important to us, but fail to speak out when matters of religious observance arise. As an example, I cited the recent brouhaha surrounding the opening of the parking lot in Yerushalayim that has become the subject of international attention. Disregarding the protests, which are ridiculous, I said, don't the Chareidim have a point? Why are they the only ones against chillul Shabbat? After all, the mealy-mouthed excuse that too many cars parked illegally on the streets may constitute a danger and therefore qualifies as pikuch nefesh seemed to me to be especially weak.
One of the rabbis at the session gave what I thought was an excellent answer that requires careful thought.
The protests over the parking lot are really about a much larger issue: control over the city of Yerushlayim. Who sets the tone and the agenda: The city - and its citizens, or the chareidi community, which continues to grow as a percentage of the city's population? The parking lot was simply a symptom of a larger issue, as these things often are.
How would we feel if Yerushalayim became entirely Shomer Shabbat? At first glance, that would seem to be a great thing. On the one hand, the yishuv I live in, Yad Binyamin, is entirely Shomer Shabbat. Nothing beats the peace and tranquility that brings. Wouldn't it be great if you could literally walk down the center of King George Street on Shabbat morning, because they didn't allow cars to drive in Yerushalayim on Shabbat?
No, it wouldn't be great. Because while it might be peaceful and tranquil, it would also shut out and completely alienate an entire population of people, who happen to be the largest percentage of citizens in Israel.
Secular Jews drive to Yerushalayim to tour the Old City on Shabbat not because they want to be mechalel Shabbat and upset Chareidim. They come to Yerushalayim looking for a connection, for spirituality, for meaning. And they need a place to park. If we allow a group to succeed in alienating them from Yerushalayim entirely, making it a place they feel has no connection to them, while there might not be anyone driving in Yerushalayim on Shabbat, there's also no guarantee that the Holy City would also remain in Jewish hands.
Because that meeting between Bibi and Mahmoud might very well happen. And they won't be talking about Kiryat Sefer. They'll be talking about Yerushalayim.