Shabbat is known as the “day of rest,” and the etymology of Jerusalem is often said to be “city of peace.” But this Shabbat in Jerusalem was neither restful nor peaceful. Some 28 Haredi demonstrators were arrested during riots over the opening of a parking lot. Six people were wounded.
On Friday night, thousands of Haredim went out to the city thoroughfare of Bar Ilan Street for what was billed as a mass prayer rally to protest the opening of the facility. Secular residents asserting the right to open the car park held a counter demonstration.
Then on Saturday, there were riots. The organizers of the prayer rally are billing it as a success, while insisting that they are not responsible for the riots.
So what’s the struggle all about? It’s a rather odd fight to pick, at first glance. Driving on Shabbat is prohibited though, of course, roads rarely close. So people can drive, which as we’ve just established, is the act of Sabbath desecration. It’s ironic, therefore, that the Haredi leaders are against people stopping driving — by parking.
Maybe the secular counter-demonstrators got it wrong. Perhaps a more effective demonstration would have been to take, en masse, to the streets in their cars, and fill the holy city with the noise of Sabbath desecration all through Shabbat. They could have held placards out of their windows saying “less parking equals more Sabbath desecration, not less.”
But alas, the Haredi campaign does not seem to be about a devout desire to reduce the occurrence of Sabbath desecration. After all, if you think about it, the irony is that as a result of the protests and riots, there was probably more Sabbath desecration – among both Haredim and others – than there would be on a normal Saturday even if people were parking cars.
Here are a few examples of how:
1). Haredi rioters taking actions prohibited on Shabbat, such as throwing stones.
2). Hareim arrested. The policemen don’t say – “do you want to take a Sabbath stroll to the station?” They are hauled in to the back of a van and end up traveling on Sabbath.
3). Protests and riots necessitate breaking of Shabbat by police, for example by using vehicles, radios etc.
4). Cameramen and journalists flock to report on what is going on.
5). Thousands of news junkies turn on the television, log on to the web or turn on their radios to find out what is happening.
Instead of a real bid to reduce the occurrence of Sabbath desecration we have a turf war, and a very interesting one at that. Beyond the obvious religious-secular tensions coming to the surface, there’s something else going on – some internal Haredi politics – which are easy to miss.
The opposition to parking facilities being open on Shabbat has been drummed up by the hard-line body the Eida Haredit, backing more mainstream leaders into a corner. With the issue of parking forced on to the agenda, they had to come out for or against it, and could hardly come out in favor.
In short, what the Eida Haredit has done is to force more moderate elements in the Haredi community, most importantly the Haredi political parties, to get involved in a fight it is widely believed they wanted to keep out of. There was a strong indication of this process in play ahead of Friday’s “rally,” with top rabbis from the Ashkenazi and Sephardi Haredi sectors — Shalom Elyashiv and Ovadia Yosef respectively — joining the Eida in promoting the gathering.