“Shabbat is our most precious thing and we won’t lend a hand to its public desecration. We won’t agree for it to stay open. Keeping the Sabbath [laws] in the city is important to secular people too. The city’s rabbis decided that it is inconceivable for the haredi public’s money to finance the activities of such a place.…"
Haredim Protest Shabbat “Desecration” In Safed
Shmarya Rosenberg • FailedMessiah.com
Along with Jerusalem, Hebron and Tiberius, Safed (also spelled Sefat, Sefas, Zefat, Zefas, Tzefat, and Tzefas) is one of Israel’s four holy cities and is the birthplace of Lurianic kabbalah – the kabbalistic system that serves as a basis for the theology of all hasidic groups and for modern-day Sefardi and non-hasidic haredi Kabbalah.
Even so the city has been predominantly secular and non-haredi for the past seven decades. Before that, it was heavily Arab.
But the haredi population of the northern city has exponentially grown due to the high haredi birthrate coupled with the need of haredim from Jerusalem and other major cities to find more affordable housing. Haredim now have eight seats on the city council, and they want to flex their new demographic muscles by limiting the freedom of secular Jews.
Two weeks ago, 200 haredim protested the opening of a city swimming pool on Shabbat – despite the fact that the pool had been open on Shabbat for 30 years. Some tried to convince reporters that the pool had only recently been opened on Shabbat. Others screamed at secular Jews and the non-haredi religious Jews who had come to support them.
A similar but smaller demonstration by haredim took place this Friday night. They were met by an equal number of non-haredim who matched haredi chants and prayers.
Haredim have also launched a boycott of the swimming pool and country club, which has hurt the city-owned but privately run recreational facility’s bottom line.
Until about 18 months ago, it had about 100 haredi members and 300 non-haredi members. Now it only has five haredi members and the haredi groups from outside Safed who used to come to use the pool have started not to come.
“If I decide to close, the last [secular] bastion in the city will fall,” Tzion Hallal, the operator of the facilities, told Ha’aretz. “So far, I’ve insisted on keeping the place open on Shabbat, it’s a matter of principle for me…[but that] might change soon.”
When the boycott started, haredim say Hallal promised them he would close the club on Shabbat. But he didn’t do it and eventually haredim decided to pick up the pace of the boycott and begin weekly protests.
“Shabbat is our most precious thing and we won’t lend a hand to its public desecration,” a haredi activist who asked that his name not be used told Haaretz. “We won’t agree for it to stay open. Keeping the Sabbath [laws] in the city is important to secular people too. The city’s rabbis decided that it is inconceivable for the haredi public’s money to finance the activities of such a place. Everyone has the right to choose where they want to spend their free time and we don’t have to continue spending ours at the country club.”
A religious Jew siding with the non-Orthodox said he fears for what Safed will become if the haredim force the pool to close on Shabbat.
“I fear for the character of the city.…[If it closes on Shabbat,] “the whole city can shut down; let it be closed up tight on Shabbat.…There were no problems for more than 20 years with the club. What happened? This is a war over the last place operating on Shabbat. If we give up here, we’ll become Bnei Brak,” Shalom Elbaz said, referring to a major haredi city that in its infancy had been populated by Zionist Orthodox and Modern Orthodox Jews.
Viki Alkabetz, a city councilwoman from the Labor Party, is reportedly the only elected official to take a public position on the pool. She noted haredim were “making harsher and harsher demands.”
The city administration said the pool will remain open on Shabbat and insisted that “extreme elements” from outside of Safed were behind the protests and boycott.
“The issue of the country club has been blown out of proportion. The country club has been open on Shabbat since it was founded. It will continue to operate with respect and understanding and in the interests of the general public as it has been in recent years. Maintaining the status quo in the city is the unified position of all of its leaders and we regret that extreme elements from outside Safed are trying to undermine relations between the secular/traditional and haredi communities.”