Tensions continue to flare in the Israeli city of Ashdod where thousands of Israelis are protesting the city’s law that stores must be closed for the weekly observance of Shabbat – the Israeli Sabbath. According to halakha (Jewish religious law), Shabbat is observed from a few minutes before sunset on Friday evening until the appearance of three stars in the sky on Saturday night. While the most devout Jews refrain from more activities than others – including some who won’t use electricity, drive automobiles, etc. – most Israelis simply avoid work or doing business as an observance of the “rest” that God commanded in the Law of Moses. The current Shabbat laws in Ashdod are in keeping with a longstanding status quo in Israel regarding businesses not operating on Shabbat. The city of Ashdod has recently hired inspectors tasked with issuing citations and monetary fines to businesses that violate the mandatory closures. However, many citizens no longer see any reason to observe the Shabbat in such a manner. As a result, thousands of protesters have been gathering on consecutive Saturday evenings to protest the city’s enforcement.
Accusations of Religious Coercion
A political party founded in 2012 known as Yesh Atid has been organizing the protests as their way to advance the concerns of the secular middle-class Jews who they say represent the majority of Israeli society. Yesh Atid Chairman Yair Lapid who has attended many of the protests said “We’re here because the deplorable Supermarket Law has to go,” Lapid told protesters. “And if we win the next elections, we’ll cancel it because Haredi [religious] coercion cannot prevail.” Recent polls have put Yesh Atid neck-and-neck with the currently ruling Likud party. Protesters also claimed that the Israeli government also discriminates against the secular public in areas of construction and education. However, no specific examples of these instances could be offered. Meanwhile, the protests continue as demonstrators are also calling for Ashdod Mayor Yehiel Lasri to resign. As Israel becomes an increasingly secular culture, we can only watch and see how far this slide away from their religious foundations will carry them.
Relevant Bible Passages
A few of the more obvious references to this situation are found in the Book of Exodus where the Lord instituted the Law of Moses and commanded “Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work: But the seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work” (Exodus 20:9-10 KJV). Similarly, as the covenant was renewed while the young nation of Israel prepared to enter into the Promised Land they were reminded, “Six days thou shalt work, but on the seventh day thou shalt rest” (Exodus 34:21 KJV). Theologically the importance of this is that God Himself rested after His work in the creation of the world as indicated in Exodus 20:11, “For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it” (KJV). This is an unfortunate situation as many in Israeli society seek to distance themselves from their religious moorings yet it is not unexpected. The Bible teaches that as the last days approach many will fall away from their faith (1 Timothy 4:1-3). We should; therefore, be in prayer over this situation.
Pray: Pray for the Israeli leaders to have the strength to affirm the religious convictions upon which Israel was founded. Pray also that the people of Israel would recognize the significance and importance of their faith and its influences on their lives.