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On the Wrong Track

Knesset observers are left to wonder: Was the new law regarding Shabbos works just lip service, designed by Netanyahu to lure Litzman back into the government?


e’s back.

Or is he?

Eight short weeks ago, Health Minister Yaakov Litzman made good on a threat to quit his job in protest against continued Shabbos desecration by Israel Railways and the government’s hollow promises to address the problem.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, reportedly stunned that Litzman followed through on his vow, worked assiduously to keep the veteran UTJ politician from bolting the fragile governing coalition, cajoling the Gerrer chassid with a commitment to pass legislation ending the Shabbos roadwork and convincing him to fill his old job as deputy health minister. Litzman acquiesced, and an additional law was passed enabling him to run the ministry from the number-two slot.

But now it seems Israel Railways is determined to run all of these carefully orchestrated schemes off the tracks.

A mere three days after Litzman assumed his new-old position, the state-owned railroad initiated work on Saturday morning in an unambiguous instance of chillul Shabbos.


What’s going on here? Why did Litzman come back? What kind of game is this, and who is being played?

All of this started back in September 2015. Members of the UTJ had always traditionally refrained from taking ministerial positions when they joined a government, and Litzman had followed suit, accepting only the position of deputy health minister upon entering Netanyahu’s cabinet. Under this arrangement Netanyahu formally held the portfolio of health but delegated the ministry’s operations to Litzman as deputy. But Israel’s Supreme Court, responding to a brief submitted by the secular Yesh Atid, ruled that Litzman could not serve as de facto minister in that role.

This necessitated Netanyahu appointing Litzman as the first Agudas Yisrael representative in 63 years to serve as a government minister, after Litzman solicited the approval of the Gerrer Rebbe.

Litzman earned high marks and robust public approval ratings for his running of the ministry. But his relations with Netanyahu hit a snag when Israel Railways’ Shabbos roadwork came to light. Litzman grew increasingly frustrated in the face of Netanyahu’s soothing assurances that only work necessary for pikuach nefesh would be performed, as repeated instances of work not meeting this criterion became evident.

Litzman finally put Netanyahu on notice that this charade could not continue, and he would quit as health minister rather than continue in that capacity in a Shabbos-desecrating government. When the proverbial last straw came to light, Litzman fulfilled that promise.

(Excerpted from Mishpacha, Issue 694)


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