Haredi "Shabbat Alert" Patrol Sparks Controversy
To prevent merchants from violating the Sabbath by remaining open, after a brief hiatus a haredi Shabbat Alert patrol has again begun descending on Mahane Yehuda market about an hour before Shabbat begins each week to remind, encourage, goad and intimidate stall owners to close their businesses before the Sabbath.
Haredi Shabbat Alert Patrol Sparks Controversy
Shmarya Rosenberg • FailedMessiah.com
While some stall owners in Jerusalem’s large outdoor Mahane Yehuda market close their business and leave the market before the Sabbath begins, many others close only moments before candle lighting and others push the envelope even further, remaining open until the moment Shabbat begins or even later.
To prevent merchants from violating the Sabbath by remaining open, after a brief hiatus a haredi Shabbat Alert patrol has again begun descending on Mahane Yehuda about an hour before Shabbat begins each week to remind, encourage, goad and intimidate stall owners to close their businesses before the Sabbath, Ynet reports. The newly reconstituted Shabbat Alert patrol is headed by Rabbi Eliyahu Schlesinger, the chief rabbi of Jerusalem’s Gilo neighborhood.
The first Mahane Yehuda Shabbat Alert patrol was founded two decades ago by Rabbi Bezalel Goldschmidt, who sent a patrol of haredi yeshiva students to the market every Friday to urge and sometimes coerce merchants to close their stalls. Over the years there were incidents of heated arguments between the haredi Shabbat patrol on one hand and merchants and customers on the other. Some of those incidents escalated to physical violence.
The haredi group behind the original Shabbat Alert patrol closed it down about a month ago. Schlesinger jumped in to fill the void.
"We don't shout at the merchants, but rush them politely. Some say to me, 'Rabbi, give me a blessing,' and I promise to do so if they shut down, and it works. But I am very angry at religious and haredi Jews who start shopping at the market just before Shabbat, creating a serious obstacle [to merchants closing before Shabbat begins],” Schlesinger told Ynet.
Some of Mahane Yehuda’s merchants don’t think Schlesinger’s actions are altruistic or entirely non-violent. Instead, they think he’s running the Shabbat Alert patrol to promote his candidacy for chief rabbi of the city.
"He is creating public relations for his activity among the haredim by going to the seculars in order to promote himself," a merchant to Ynet.
Some stall owners also point to what they say is the bad behavior of the haredim in the Shabbat Alert patrol. One merchant posted a photograph in his stall showing haredim in Shabbat clothes pushing a stall owner against a wall in the market.
Schlesinger rejects the criticism.
“We do it out of love for Israel and not for any other reason but to honor the Sabbath,” the rabbi said.