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Another Tension-filled Sabbath is Shaping Up for Jerusalem

A Jerusalem commercial-cinema plans five film screenings next Friday night, and Orthodox circles in the city plan major demonstrations, in what is shaping up as another tension-filled Shabbat for the capital city.

The Orthodox, heartened by their solid showing at a Western Wall prayer meeting on Monday, are also moving on the political plane: the Council of Torah Sages of the Shas Party Wednesday ordered its politicians to secede from Mayor Teddy Kollek’s municipal coalition next week unless the Shabbat dispute is satisfactorily resolved. The commercial cinema, Orion, intends to offer lectures at the start of each showing, thereby abiding, in its view, by a municipal by law provision permitting cultural events on the Sabbath while forbidding regular commercial film screenings. The Orion would presumably sell club membership tickets before the Sabbath begins.

In addition to this latest venture, the four non-commercial cinema clubs that screened films (accompanied by lectures) last Friday night have all announced their intention to do so again this weekend.

These are Beit Agron in the city center, the Cinematheque, the Tsavta Theater, and Beit Yitzhaki, a cultural center in the German Colony district of south Jerusalem. The organizers are backed — led as some observers say — by political activists from Mapam, Civil Rights Movement, and other leftwing and liberal parties in the capital.

THE GRAVITY OF THE SITUATION

The Shas spiritual leaders ordered their politicians to meet with Kollek urgently and “explain to him the gravity of the situation.”

Thus far, Shas and its rival ultra-Orthodox party, Agudat Yisrael, are working together in the “battle over the sanctity of the sacred city.” Shas’s top mentor, former Sephardic Chief Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, stood alongside Rabbis Shalom Eliashiv and Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, two leading Aguda-affiliated rabbis, at the Monday evening prayer-demonstration at the Wall.

The high point at that event was the advent, unexpected, of the venerable Rabbi of Gur, Rabbi Simcha Bunim Alter, who is close to 90 and has not been seen in public for many months. His car was immediately mobbed by young followers. But his attendance gave the demonstration a huge fillip — which was necessary in view of its failure to attain the turn-out which the organizers hoped for.

Although the Aguda newspaper Hamodia spoke of 50,000 people, more objective estimates put the real number at less than half. Nevertheless, all observers agreed it was an impressive show of solidarity, solemn and well-organized.

The vast congregation chanted prayers and selected Psalms from a specially-printed order of service, and shofar-blowers rounded off the proceedings with vigorous blasts — ushering in the month of repentance, Elul, whose new moon rose that night.

Significantly, there was a smattering of knitted kippot among the black-hatted throng–showing some solidarity between the more modern Orthodox elements in the city and the ultra-Orthodox (Haredi) community on the Shabbat issue.

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