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Bring Back Sundays!

Since moving to Israel from Australia over three years ago, one of the hardest adjustments I have had to make in my lifestyle is the Sunday to Thursday work week.

The reason why Israelis do not work on Fridays (or work half-days) is because this is the day that Jews prepare for the Jewish Sabbath, which begins around sunset on Friday, and lasts until nightfall on Saturday. And since we do not work on Friday, Sunday is the first work day of the week.

While families do get to relax on Saturday, it is not the same thing. Most places are not open on Saturday, and even if they were, observant Jews like myself would not go. Consequently, we do not get to go out on family excursions, except on holidays. And that is difficult in itself, since everyone is going at the same time. The roads are filled with all and sundry, and the popular places are filled to capacity. Rather than being a relaxing day out, the whole experience becomes extremely stressful.

I recall a few years ago we decided to go to a safari park on a vacation. After being stuck in traffic for over two hours, and still a long way to go, we decided to turn around and just go home. It just wasn’t worth it.

So it is with great interest that I read the following editorial in the Jerusalem Post. It sums up my feelings exactly.

Create a weekend

All too often the obvious solution ñ the one which readily suggests itself and makes the most sense ñ isn’t adopted for a variety of irrelevant reasons.

This is what happened to the proposal to create a two-day weekend, the Jewish Sabbath and Sunday.

An expanded weekend would solve some of our thorniest problems and would add no substantial burden. Yet the previous Knesset defeated such a proposal, submitted by the National Religious Party’s Nahoum Langental. Now Likud MK Leah Ness is taking another stab at an eminently practical, timely, and logical idea.

Ness’ bill would effectively mean a 4.5-day workweek for most Israelis. They would continue to enjoy a shorter workday on Friday (five hours at most) and would get both Saturdays and Sundays off. All businesses (save for places of entertainment and eateries) would be closed by law on Saturdays, but stores could be open for business on Sundays, giving us the family shopping day many crave. A situation would be created very much like that which exists in Switzerland, except that the roles of Saturday and Sunday would be reversed.

This would instantly do away with bitter wrangling over Shabbat. It would make it possible to maintain the distinct Jewish character of Shabbat in the Jewish state and preserve it as a cherished value, without denying families a day for outings at the malls, stores, and markets. Saturday nights could offer youngsters a long night on the town without the next morning’s early wake-up constrictions. Public transportation would be available for Sunday excursions.

Shabbat would be spared assault by those who want to shop or rake in the profits of weekend commerce. Shopkeepers and urban hubs would be spared unfair competition from out-of-town shopping centers and malls open Saturdays, when city main-street businesses are legally prohibited from competing. Businessmen wishing to observe Shabbat won’t be disadvantaged, and job seekers won’t be discriminated against if they refuse to work on Shabbat.

Today those coerced to labor on Saturdays are denied even the one free day they can share with their families. Ness’ bill won’t only safeguard the traditional Shabbat, but will be of great social importance by helping employees and businessmen resist pressure to give up all time off on weekends. The underlying social justice of the Jewish Sabbath would be reinforced, and much of the strife that currently frays our social fiber would be automatically eliminated.

The cost would be negligible. The work hours lost on Sunday could be easily made up by lengthening the other work days, leaving the number of hours worked per week the same. The school schedule would be adjusted in the same way. There would be less leisure time during the week, but concentrating that same time on the weekend would allow it to be put to more varied uses.

An expanded weekend would clearly be a boon to the struggling tourism industry, as it would become much easier to get away for the weekend without taking a vacation day. Israel’s financial and currency markets would also be brought into step with those of the rest of the world.

Even if the number of hours in the school week remains unchanged, the lengthening of the school day could also bring educational benefits, as the week would be divided into fewer, longer units.

Moreover, if this bill isn’t passed, the status quo will anyhow not be maintained. It’s under constant attack, mostly from large chains which can force employees to work Saturdays, as distinct from the old-fashioned mom-and-pop store for which hired help is out of the question and the competition ruinous, not only to the business but also for home life.

Out-of-town shopping venues proliferate and increasing numbers of retail chains stay open seven days a week in urban malls as well.

Like it or not, the situation is rapidly changing. The question is whether we harness and control the change to collective advantage or whether we let anarchy prevail, set the tone, and deepen the national divide. The Jews gave the world the Sabbath; why should we deprive ourselves of the weekend?

About the author

Picture of David Lange

David Lange

A law school graduate, David Lange transitioned from work in the oil and hi-tech industries into fulltime Israel advocacy. He is a respected commentator and Middle East analyst who has often been cited by the mainstream media
Picture of David Lange

David Lange

A law school graduate, David Lange transitioned from work in the oil and hi-tech industries into fulltime Israel advocacy. He is a respected commentator and Middle East analyst who has often been cited by the mainstream media
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