SA Chief Rabbi Dr Warren Goldstein addressed a special committee of the Knesset to discuss proposals for shortening the workweek and, more specifically, making Sunday part of the weekend.
Rabbi Goldstein, who is also the founder of the international Shabbat Project (or “Shabbat Olamit” as it is known in Israel) pledged support for the idea as a means for reducing tension in Israeli society and giving Shabbat its “pride of place” within the Jewish state.
At the meeting convened and chaired by Labor MK Naama Lazimi, Rabbi Goldstein presented the findings of a recent independent survey he’d commissioned gauging public attitudes to the idea of creating a shorter work week, and towards Shabbat in general.
The findings, which were released today for the first time, demonstrated widespread support for a shorter workweek, with 76% in favor of a Sunday weekend.
“Most importantly,” says Rabbi Goldstein, “this survey shows that introducing Sunday as an extra weekend day would reduce tensions and divisions within Israeli society around Shabbat.”
More than 90% of respondents were concerned that the tension around state and religion is undermining the unity of Israeli society, with 83% saying that establishing a Sunday weekend would reduce these tensions.
“It is a tragedy that Shabbat has long been seen as a touchpoint of the culture wars in Israel between religious and secular,” says Rabbi Goldstein. “Shabbat should never be a battleground, and I feel the state must do everything possible to reduce these tensions, and in a way no one feels imposed on.”
He sees the proposal as something that would “release the pressure valve on Israeli society”.
“A weekend Sunday will give all Israelis an alternative day for shopping and competitive sport and going to the beach – for doing whatever they don’t have time for during the workweek. In that way, Shabbat can remain a prominent feature of the Jewish state – as I believe it should be – without the same division and resentment. It can become a source of unity and national pride.”
The survey also indicated that should Sunday become part of the weekend, over 50% of self-described “chilonim” would spend more time at home resting and connecting with family on Shabbat.
For Rabbi Goldstein, these findings bear out what he has personally observed over the years, with Israel becoming the global hub of the Shabbat Project, and the project being warmly embraced by Israelis across the spectrum.
“I’ve seen the power of Shabbat to be a source of unity both globally and within Israel, and I’ve been amazed and inspired by the warmth Israelis of all levels of observance have shown towards Shabbat.”
He believes this proposal offers an attainable practical solution to relieving the divisions within Israeli society around Shabbat.
“We need to create space for Shabbat to be accessible to everyone in society, without causing friction, and I believe an expanded weekend will do exactly that.
“Shabbat is part of who we are as Jews,” adds Rabbi Goldstein. “It is so central to our heritage. We can’t allow it to be pushed out of the public spaces in Israel, but at the same time, it can’t become a divisive issue.
The good news, he says, is that it needn’t be.
“By expanding the one-day weekend, we can turn a lose-lose situation – a source of division and antipathy – into a win-win for Israelis of all stripes, and ensure Shabbat is what it was always meant to be – a day that brings Jews together.
“I want to congratulate MK Naama Lazimi for calling this meeting of the Knesset and for championing this issue, and I’d like to thank her for the opportunity and the honor of addressing the Knesset committee. I look forward to working with MK Lazimi and others as we build a coalition to support this important proposal.”