Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Charedi World

6 Elul 5759 - August 18, 1999 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Turbine Tempest -- the Latest Shabbos Outrage

by B. Kahn, M. Plaut and Yated Ne'eman Staff

UTJ leaders -- with backing from the Likud -- have called a special session of the Knesset this Wednesday to debate the Prime Minister's decision to move a massive 300-ton turbine component for the Israel Electric Company from Ramat Hasharon to Ashkelon on last Shabbos. The special session, which can be called by 30 members of Knesset, will also discuss various other topics.

Meanwhile, the Electric Corporation says it has drawn up alternate plans that would enable moving such huge cargoes during the week from the manufacturing plant in Ramat Hasharon to the new power station in Ashkelon, to avoid further Shabbos desecration.

Those plans, said corporation officials, involve moving the huge turbine components in stages over three days, from midnight until four in the morning, and then parking the gigantic devices in specially prepared lots until the next night. The components take up three lanes of highway and can be moved only at a 5-10 km/hour pace, taking at least 12 hours for the total 80 kilometer trip. The trip last Shabbos took 13 hours.

According to police and transportation officials, however, no such plan was given to them before the decision was made last Thursday to move the cargo on Friday night. A senior police source said, "We looked for months at various alternatives . . . and the conclusion was that the least amount of damage would be caused by moving the component on Friday night." The sources claimed that police and the electric company had spent over NIS 300,000 on the planning for the move.

MK Meir Porush won support from the Likud for his petition for a special session. The Likud also recruited Yisrael Beitenu, headed by MK Avigdor Lieberman and the National Unity party's Rechavam Ze'evi to back the UTJ petition.

Likud MK Reuven Rivlin defended his party's decision to back the chareidi party's complaint by saying that "irrespective of the subject, the Likud feels duty-bound to help any coalition partner that feels slighted, to raise the subject for debate."

Barak told Shas ministers that the decision to move the turbine part on Shabbos was not an attempt to defeat them in a secular-religious battle, but that the journey was undertaken at that time because professionals had decided it was the safest and most economical time. However, UTJ politicians disputed this.

UTJ MKs Speak

MK Rabbi Avrohom Ravitz said that the Prime Minister had misled the chareidi community and "fooled us." MK Rabbi Gafni said that the UTJ would not remain silent. The chareidi MKs said that this is further proof that the image of Ehud Barak as a trustworthy person has no basis. Barak, they said, is a person who feeds his coalition partners with lies. They said that the announcements leading up to the move, and the sudden, late-Friday decision to go ahead on Shabbos, clearly indicated the bad-faith of the prime minister.

Rabbi Ravitz said that the entire affair constitutes, "extraordinary chutzpah. There is a coalition which includes on 27 religious MKs. What would have happened if he had waited a few more days until the alternative proposed by experts was examined? The police didn't check, because its hands were tied by the past. The honor of Shabbos isn't linked to the cost of living index. There is no such thing as `impossible.' Of course it is possible."

Rabbi Ravitz added that, "There was total fraud here. All day Friday, until the late afternoon, they said that they would consider the other options. However just before Shabbos, they announced that they decided to transfer the turbine on Shabbos, knowing that we couldn't fight the decision so close to Shabbos. This was a plunder, a ruse, and a blatant display of contempt for one's partners, beyond the contempt of Shabbos kodesh.

"Barak could easily have made a decision not to transfer the turbine on Shabbos too. But he wanted to `teach the religious a lesson.' It doesn't matter whether they moved large loads in the past or not. The questions are: Does the State of Israel respect the sanctity of Shabbos or not? Is it led by the fascist Shinui party or does it consider the feelings of the mitzva-observant public? On this issue, the Government and its head failed abysmally.

"Since the foundation of the State, the secular sector has been systematically trying to make the State less Jewish. At first there was a "status quo," then they began to erode it, saying that there is a new status quo, `because we broke it.' The status quo has continually been eroded. Now, anyone who -- even legally -- forces stores to close on Shabbos is breaking the status quo, because the lawbreakers have opened stores on Shabbos, and the police back them. That's the way it is in every area. They make a new status quo, and we wonder why Israeli society is becoming non-Jewish. They aim to transform it into a non-Jewish State.

"Ehud Barak is exploiting the fact that for us the most precious ideal is `Yavneh and its sages,' the lomdei haTorah, and he is playing with us and taking advantage of our good will and innocence, for the purpose of secularizing the State," Rabbi Ravitz said. UTJ has announced that its main goal is the protection of the exemption from army duty of the yeshiva students.

MK Rabbi Gafni said: "The Prime Minister fooled us. Barak claims that he isn't involved in the matter, while all along he issues announcements which back the decision. He didn't check to see if there were other alternatives.

"On Sunday we were supposed to present alternative proposals: why was it so urgent for him to announce his decision before Shabbos? This is an unprecedented act. Never was there a prime minister who backed such a matter in so deceitful a manner.

"We were led to believe that the turbine wouldn't be moved on Shabbos, and then they made the decision so close to Shabbos that we wouldn't have time to oppose the move."

Friday's Events

Early on Friday, it seemed as if the police had backed down from their intention to transfer the turbine on Shabbos, especially since the Public Works Department had announced on Thursday that it had not received work permits from the Labor and Welfare Ministry, and that as a result, its personnel could not participate in the transfer of the turbine.

The spokesperson for the Traffic Police said that police could not assume responsibility for the transfer of the turbine without the presence of Public Works engineers, since lampposts and traffic signs would have to be dismantled, and bridges and sidewalks had to be safeguarded.

Later on Friday morning, the Public Works Department announced that it was not necessary for it to accompany the convoy, in contradiction to what it had said the day before.

The PWD added that although its personnel sometimes accompanies an unusually large installation, this is not always the case.

The Electric Company has prepared plans for two alternative routes for the transfer of the turbine on a weekday. The alternatives were prepared by an experienced professional team appointed by the Electric Company.

One of the alternatives was to transfer it on the original route as it was taken last Shabbos -- which included the main roads from Ramat Hasharon --and then via the road to Ashkelon.

The second alternative was to use secondary roads, and included solutions to the problem of the heavy loads on the side roads and the bridges along the route.

In both alternatives, the turbine part was supposed to travel for three consecutive nights, while parking during certain hours of the day in order not to disrupt the traffic flow. This would have meant traveling four hours a night, and a total of 12 hours from Ramat Hasharon to the power station in Ashkelon.

The Shameful Event

The turbine component left the Israel Military Industries in Ramat Hasharon, where it was built, at the start of Shabbos, and arrived at the Rottenberg power station near Ashkelon on Shabbos morning after a 13 hour journey. The huge part arrived at the gate of the power station, but was only unloaded on Sunday.

Scores of people gathered near the junctions and the bridges in order to watch the turbine as it moved along the country's roads.

The chillul Hashem was great. The new government transformed its Shabbos desecration into a festival and a triumph over the Shabbos observers. On the sides of the roads stood incited chilonim, cheering and clapping their hands with glee. They called day of the turbine procession, the "Independence Day of the Secularists." They behaved like they do on Israel Independence Day, and flanked the roads along which the convoy proceeded with Israeli flags in their hands.

The political left crowed over their "victory." Yossi Sarid expressed "satisfaction at the triumph of common sense and reason over the antics of a minister or party or inter-party considerations. The Government proved that it is able to withstand blackmail, and that threats don't work," Sarid added.

Tel Aviv police massed forces at the Bar Ilan and Bnei Brak junctions as the turbine passed, lest religious residents try to stop the convoy. Rumors were spread that religious people would try desperately to stop the transport, but they all turned out to be false.

Shabbos is a Communal Value

Eli Landau, chairman of the board of the Israel Electric Corporation, dared to say a number of things which are often left unsaid. "Throughout my entire career of public service," he said, "I have staunchly believed that, with respect to important matters such as those which are dear to religious citizens, it's best to negotiate and to avoid excessive tension and rifts. The electric company belongs to the religious community too.

"I believe that public Shabbos observance is a traditional Jewish value of which we should be proud as long as it doesn't intrude on the private citizen and isn't forced on him. I repeat, that the electric company, Israel Military Industries and all of the other involved bodies could have transferred the turbine during the week, without hurting the pubic at large," he said.

Wasn't the battle over the turbine futile from the start?

Rabbi Gafni answers: "Was the struggle a wise one? We had to protest. True, this isn't the first time that something like this has happened. But this is the first time since the founding of the State that the Prime Minister has intervened so blatantly in such an affair, and in so contrary a manner.

"True, in the past there were cases like this, and I was involved in some of them. Some of the installations which were supposed to be transferred on Shabbos, were in the end transferred on weekdays. We didn't always know about the intention to transfer installations in advance, and weren't always able to avert such designs.

"What is different this time? First of all the proportion. Hundreds of people worked on Shabbos -- police, electric company employees, movers, the PWD. And besides all them there was the media. They made a grand festival of the whole affair.

"But there's another, more serious side to the affair. Days before the actual transfer, the media announced time and again which sections of the roads would be closed on Shabbos, and at what times. For anyone seeking to understand the meaning of the word parhesia, this is the most vivid example possible. Are Jews permitted to remain silent in the face of such public Shabbos desecration?

"For some reason, the transfer of the turbine became a personal ambition of the Prime Minster," Rabbi Gafni said. "He knew that there are good and inexpensive alternatives. What should he have done? He should have waited until the Sunday, and then examined the alternate proposals of experts in the field. He did not have to rely on Jews like us who are prepared to pay a high price for Shabbos observance."

When Barak won the elections, he was given the benefit of the doubt. The declarations which he made after his elections were promising. He declared he would be "Everyone's Prime Minster." He made quite a number of promises to the chareidi parties. What happened in the end? Nothing.

"The Prime Minster fooled us," Rabbi Gafni, said clearly. "The chareidi community, and the sanctity of Shabbos were stabbed in the back."

"The gedolei HaTorah have lost all confidence in the Prime Minster," Rabbi Gafni says. "They view him as one who doesn't tell the truth.

"This desecration of Shabbos not only pertains to every Jew, but constitutes a huge stumbling block. From the moment the scheme to transfer the turbine on Shabbos began to brew, religious and traditional Shabbos observing Jews couldn't be employed by the electric company and in other involved companies. There were others who were either accepted to work or remained on their jobs and stumbled. They couldn't withstand the nisoyon. After all, their livelihood was at stake. The transfer of the turbine isn't a one-time event. Now they're talking about additional transfers in the near future.

The decision was made just before Shabbos. How do you explain this?

"This was a well planned stratagem intended to undermine us and the Shabbos. There is an ideological battle here, an open chasm between us and them, and when they win, the celebrate.

"But what are they celebrating? What happened? A turbine was moved on Shabbos? That's a cause for a second Independence Day? That's a reason to buy plastic hammers?

"The Admor of Vishnitz told us not to yield, but to fight with all our might. Had we given up the fight when this business which they call a "state" began 51 years ago, there would hardly be any religious or chareidi Jews here today. Today, 90% of the Israelis in the country don't eat chometz on Pesach. If we hadn't remained, no more than 10% would currently be keeping Shabbos and kashrus. We have a responsibility to Klal Yisroel."

The chareidi parties, Rabbi Gafni hopes, will do what is incumbent on them. "We will follow the guidelines of the gedolei haTorah," he says. "Shas, it is hoped, will go along with us. Will we remain in the coalition? That's still not clear. What is clear, is that we'll have a rough time. We won't gain anything easily; but neither will they."

The Religious Lobby of the Knesset Protests

This past Monday, the Knesset's Religious Lobby convened to express its deep shock over the public Shabbos desecration caused by the transfer of the turbine.

The meeting was attended by 20 ministers, deputy ministers and MKs from the religious parties. The first speaker was the chairman of the religious lobby, MK Rabbi Shmuel Halpert. He said that the transfer of the turbine was a inordinate provocation against the religious community, since alternatives had been proposed by the chairman and director general of the electric company, and the turbine could have been transferred on a weekday.

MK Rabbi Halpert said that according to the experts, the turbine could have been transferred in stages, and if not for the strange and stubborn insistence of biased parities, the tremendous chillul Shabbos would have been averted. Now, in light of the fact that the electric company plans to transfer additional turbines, the Prime Minister and all those involved in the affair must know that we will not remain silent in face of the trampling of Shabbos kodesh.

Rabbi Halpert praised the Infrastructure Minister, Eli Suissa, for leading the battle to prevent the massive Shabbos desecration.

Minister Suissa, then presented the alternatives prepared by professionals in the field, among them Rafi Peled, the director general of the electricity company, who was once the Police Inspector General and is familiar with all of the problems involved in transferring large installations.

The Labor and Welfare Minister, Eli Yishai, reported on the efforts of his ministry, saying that it wrote to the company which transferred the turbine and warned it not to employ workers on Shabbos without a permit, in violation of the Work and Rest Law.

MK Rabbi Meir Porush, the chairman of UTJ, said that it is claimed that the former government also transferred large installations on Shabbos. He remarked: "First of all, today there is an Infrastructure Minister who is concerned about the issue. Second of all, we didn't know that, and had we known, we would have prevented the transfer."

All of the speakers expressed disgust over the contempt and the deceit of the Prime Minister and his advisors, and of the disregard of the Internal Security Minister, of the fact that the Police backed the violation of the of the law perpetrated by the company which transferred the turbine without all the proper work permits.

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