JERUSALEM (Dec. 4)
Thousands of fervently Orthodox Jews converged this week on Israel’s secular capital, Tel Aviv, demanding that the “city that never sleeps” turn the lights out on the Sabbath.
Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau, as well as Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, spiritual leader of the fervently Orthodox Sephardi Shas Party, were among the religious leaders at Wednesday night’s rally at the Tel Aviv fairgrounds.
The rally was organized by the fervently Orthodox Agudat Yisrael Party to demand the closure of Tel Aviv’s numerous movie theaters, bars, cafes and other places of entertainment from sundown Friday until the end of the Sabbath.
Organizers said that if the Sabbath is not observed in Tel Aviv, its observance could be further eroded in other Israeli communities.
Shortly before the rally, a group of activists from the secularist Meretz Party scuffled with participants and were removed from the site.
The demonstration came after a survey was published by the Israeli daily Yediot Achronot showing that 47.2 percent of Israelis feel that growing polarization between secular and religious Jews will ultimately lead to civil war.
Two-thirds of Israel’s 4.6 million Jewish citizens define themselves as secular, while one-third call themselves observant.
Some 500,000 Jews, about 10 percent of the Jewish population, belong to fervently Orthodox groups.
The fact that the rally was held in Tel Aviv reflected the greater influence religious parties have acquired since May’s elections, which brought them large gains in the Knesset and positions in the governing coalition of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Until now, the battle between fervently Orthodox and secular groups over synagoguestate issues has focused on Jerusalem.
Earlier this year, the two groups held often violent demonstrations over whether a main Jerusalem thoroughfare, Bar Ilan Street, should be open to traffic on the Sabbath or holidays.
A public commission appointed to study the issue recently recommended that the street be closed when prayers are held on those days.
In another victory for religious interests, the High Court of Justice last week issued a ruling upholding a law banning the import of pork and other non-kosher food products.