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Jerusalem Street to Close During Sabbath Prayer Times

After months of controversy, Israel has decided to close a main Jerusalem thoroughfare during prayer times on the Sabbath and Jewish holidays.

Transportation Minister Yitzhak Levy announced Sunday that the decision was in accordance with a recent High Court of Justice ruling that required him to provide alternative routes for secular drivers if Bar Ilan Street was closed.

The street, which has been at the center of a bitter — and sometimes violent – – religious-secular dispute, runs through fervently Orthodox, or haredi, neighborhoods.

Levy said a section of the street would be closed to traffic for one hour and 45 minutes on Friday and Saturday evenings, and for several hours on Saturday mornings.

No police barricades would be set up on the road, but electronic signals would be erected to alert drivers. Emergency vehicles would have access to the road at all times.

Special provisions would be made for secular residents in the affected area, Levy said.

The transportation minister’s announcement prompted protests from secular activists.

Knesset members Ophir Pines of Labor and Yossi Sarid of Meretz, said they would consider challenging the decision if it did not meet the High Court’s conditions.

Ornan Yekutieli, the Jerusalem council member from Meretz who spearheaded the campaign to keep the road open, said he would petition the court if the road became de facto closed on the Sabbath.

“If no one drives on the road on the times between prayers, because the haredim become violent, this will be in violation of the High Court ruling,” said Yekutieli, who was injured in the head by a rock thrown by haredim during a Meretz demonstration on Bar Ilan Street over the weekend.

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