Friday, June 28, 2013

Two Radio Discussions: Shabbat in Tel Aviv and the Chief Rabbi Race

I've got about a forty minute drive from Yad Binyamin to Orot each day, during which I normally listen to podcasts on my iPod. At times, at the turn of the hour, I'll turn on the radio to get the news. Today, after the news, I stuck with the radio, and remembered why I love living here.
The top news item in Israel today is the recent decision of the Israeli Supreme Court instructing the city of Tel Aviv to enforce the ban on businesses staying open on Shabbat (the city levies fines). It seems that major chains were keeping their supermarkets open, while the smaller stores (makolot) were getting pinched by closing. And, when they did open, the fines levied against them were far more painful to a small store than they were to a major chain.
The Supreme Court sided with the small stores, instructing the municipality to enforce the current law, which bans commerce on Shabbat. This law, which is on the books, has been largely ignored or enforced only half-heartedly, as many if not most citizens of Tel Aviv don't keep Shabbat and want to be able to buy groceries on their day off.
The Supreme Court didn't come out in favor of Shabbat, mind you. They came out in favor of upholding the law. They explicitly said that if the people of Tel Aviv wanted to be able to shop on Shabbat, then they could and should simply change the law. What the city cannot do, though, is intentionally ignore a law on the books.
Left-wing radio host Keren Noibach
What I loved about the radio discussion that ensued what that the discussion did not fall along expected party lines. The secular radio host, and some of the politicians, were not united in favor of opening stores unilaterally on Shabbat. They also wanted there to be a spirit of Shabbat, even in Tel Aviv. Keren Noibach, a well-known left-wing morning radio host noted that especially in our consumer-driven culture, the last thing that Tel Aviv needs is for another day of shopping. Many also noted that they wanted the Jewish nature of Israel was important to them.
I then changed the station from Reshet Bet (Kol Yisrael) to a more dati-oriented radio station called Galei Yisrael, which is supposed to appeal to the Religious Zionist community. The discussion turned to the race for the Chief Rabbinate (where the news changes literally by the minute). I wondered about the connection between the two issues on the radio that morning. What's the connection between Shabbat in Tel Aviv and the identity of the Chief Rabbi? Shouldn't the Chief Rabbi of Israel play a role in the discussion? I believe he should - not by working to clamp down on Tel Aviv, but by taking the role of Chief Rabbinic Advocate for Shabbat. I yearn for a Chief Rabbi who could respond to these issues with words of encouragement, love and a positive attitude towards the Jewish nature of Israel; who could connect to the public - not just the religious public, but the Israeli public at large who, hearing his message would react not with indignation and scorn, but admiration and appreciation.
Then, perhaps the next time Keren Noibach wanted to talk about Shmirat Shabbat, instead of just inviting a professor and a lawyer, she invited a rabbi to join in the discussion as well.
I loved listening to these discussion