Haredi Orthodox minister resigns post over Shabbat railway work

Shas party leader Aryeh Deri, right, speaking with United Torah Judaism leader Yaakov Litzman at the opening session of the 20th Knesset, March 31, 2015. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

Shas party leader Aryeh Deri, right, speaking with United Torah Judaism leader Yaakov Litzman at the opening session of the 20th Knesset, March 31, 2015. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

JERUSALEM (JTA) — A haredi Orthodox government minister resigned from his post over railway work that took place on Shabbat.

Health minister Yaakov Litzman of the United Torah Judaism party officially resigned Sunday after a new signaling system was installed on rail lines in the Negev the day before. Litzman had announced on Friday that he would resign if the work took place over Shabbat.

Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz and Welfare Minister Haim Katz approved the work, saying that waiting would make the tracks less safe and that conducting the work during the week would snarl traffic for several days.

The United Torah Judaism Party and its six seats will remain in the government, however, meaning that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s ruling coalition is safe for now, according to reports.

“I regret Minister Yaakov Litzman’s decision to resign from the government. He is an excellent health minister and has done a great deal for the health of the citizens of Israel. The national government headed by the Likud is the best government for the State of Israel. I think all the coalition members are interested in its continuation. I don’t think – I know,” Netanyahu said in a statement at the beginning of the weekly cabinet meeting on Sunday.

“The Shabbat is important to us, and so are the needs of all citizens of the Israel, including of course the need of safe and continuous transportation. I believe we will find a rational solution. We are working on it, it’s in reach. We will work together in order to continue serving the citizens of Israel.”

Netanyahu reportedly will hold the portfolio of the health minister himself and not fill the position, and will keep Litzman’s appointees in place in order to facilitate his return,” according to reports.

Katz had recently announced that only essential railways work would take place on Shabbat. Two weeks ago he announced that only non-Jews would work on Shabbat, but that reportedly did not appease Litzman.

Litzman said Sunday he resigned after consulting with his rabbi, Rabbi Yaakov Aryeh Alter, the head of the Ger Chasidic movement.

“Throughout the generations, we knew we were protected by Shabbat, we knew it was the root of the covenant between the people of Israel and God. Unfortunately, Israel Railways has recently made Shabbat into ‘National Renovation Day’: They needlessly do all their renovations on Shabbat,” Litzman said, according to Israel’s Ynet news website. “I’m disappointed I couldn’t stop the desecration of Shabbat. Shabbat is precious to us all.”

“The Holy Shabbat is the national day of rest, and we have been taught to safeguard against Shabbat’s desecration. Sadly, and with great pain, due to government work that has been carried out in public by Israel Railways for a long time now, I have decided to resign from my position as health minister. I cannot take ministerial responsibility for the public, state-condoned desecration of Shabbat, in opposition to the Jewish people’s sacred values, status quo and coalition agreement,” Litzman said, according to Ynet.

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