There will be no “blue Saturday” law in the Holy Land, Herbert Samuel, High Commissioner for Palestine in which the first Sabbath edict was promulgated, told a delegation of Jews who called upon him and filed a protest in Biblical fashion against the “profanation of the Sabbath”.
Addressing the High Commissioner as the Nehemiah of modern time, the delegation, couching their plea in Scriptural phraseology asked “that he summon the notables of Judah to inquire from them why they profane the Sabbath in public?” Nehemiah invoked such a council, they pointed out, when he saw “the people treading the wine presses on the Sabbath”.
As Nehemiah “appointed guardians to prevent people from entering within the walls on Sabbath and commanded the Levites to purify and keep the gates on the Sabbath” so do we, continued the spokesman of the delegation, “ask that you give validity to the observance of the Sabbath.”
Jewish communal and public institutions as well as private individuals were guilty of Sabbath desecration, the Jewish delegation told the High Commissioner.
Sir Herbert expressed his sympathy with the movement for Sabbath observance, but declared that public opinion and moral influence would do more to bring about real observance of the Saturday as the day of rest than would the passage of laws which, he declared, “were difficult of enforcement”. The High Commissioner declared that he personally as well as his family were setting an example of Sabbath observance.
The delegation which was composed of Rabbi Abramovitz, Rabbi Nissim Eliasher and two laymen presented a petition signed by four thousand orthodox Jews asking that steps against Sabbath desecration be taken.
“I have listened with great interest and much sympathy to the general views you have expressed this morning”, replied the High Commissioner. “On broad grounds, I
attach the greatest value to the institution of a Day of Rest; the principle is one of the matters in which modern civilization owes very much to the Mosaic Code. The day of rest is of the greatest value to intellectual efficiency, and it is a boon to labour throughout the world. And here in Palestine it is right that each of the communities should observe with loyalty and strictness its own day of rest. Particularly in Jerusalem where there is so large a Jewish population, it is right that the Sabbath, the Jewish day of rest, should be strictly adhered to, as well as in the other cities of Palestine where Jewish populations exist. If the Jewish National Home means anything at all it means a Jewish atmosphere for the Jewish Community in Palestine. And I entirely agree with you in the assertion that Jews living in the country, and others coming from other countries to Palestine, should find an environment of quiet and rest on the Sabbath.
“On a previous representation of the Chief Rabbinate I examined, in consultation with my advisers, the law now in force in the country, and I found that there is at present no law which applies in this matter. However the Turkish law might be enforceable with regard to Ramadan, it does not apply to the observance of a day of rest whether by Jews, by Moslems or by Christians.
“I hardly think that in these days it is practical to introduce new legislation and to enforce penalties for the breach of the Sabbath. The enforcement of such laws is difficult, and it is generally found that public opinion and moral influence are far more effective than the imposition of fines or imprisonment. I think the best course which can be taken in this matter is to appeal to the influence of public opinion. The efforts of your Committee, the fact that you have collected such a large number of signatures for this petition, show the usefulness of the work in this direction and has so far been accomplished. It would be desirable that your Committee should give particular examples of the breaches of the Sabbath of which you complain.
“My own observation has shown me that the Jewish shops are generally closed on the Sabbath in Jerusalem. I observe in your memorandum that you say ‘the desecration of the Sabbath is not only committed by private institutions, but, to our regret, by Jewish communal and public institutions’, and I think it would be very useful if you would secure publicity for any particular instance of such breach. I feel sure that representatives made to the head of such an institution would stop profanations of that character.’
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.