(JTA) – The completion of a fast train connection between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem will be delayed by two years because of the Israeli economy ministry’s refusal to allow work on Shabbat, Israel Railways said.
The statement Friday said the project, which is due to be completed in 2017, may take until 2019, Army Radio reported. Israel Railways, which, like most public transportation bodies in Israel does not provide services to the broad public on Shabbat, also said it would cancel departures immediately before and after Shabbat in favor of work on the fast connection during weekdays.
The cancellations, which are believed to affect at least 30,000 passengers, follow a dispute involving the train company, the Ministry of Economy under Aryeh Deri of the haredi Orthodox Shas party and the Ministry of Transportation under Israel Katz of Likud.
Katz said Deri’s ministry was blocking work on Shabbat, but Deri’s office told Army Radio that “if Israel Railways wants to allow work on Shabbat, it needs to attach the transportation ministry’s approval and will be granted permission.”
Israel Railways’ current connection between the cities, situated 47 miles apart, has a travel time of 81 minutes.
Public transportation on Shabbat is a divisive issue in Israel, where advocates of the ban say allowing public transportation would violate the status quo — a series of agreements reached in the 1950s between the Labor-led government and haredi Orthodox leaders, which attempted to regulate issues of religion and state.
Many haredi and religious Jewish Israelis oppose transportation on Shabbat because they perceive it as a violation of the fifth commandment, one of the 10 Commandments.
But many non-religious Israelis perceive the ban as an unreasonable instance of religious coercion, and withholding of what they regard as a basic service by the state. Avigdor Lieberman, head of the rightist-secularist Yisrael Beitenu party and a former transportation minister, told Army Radio the incident involving Israel Railways “shows the government allowed the public to be held hostage by haredi parties.”