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Study and Theory/

The Social Cultural Justification for Shabbat

Explanation of the Gavison – Medan Covenant by Ruth Gavison

It is possible that the religious reason for agreeing to such an arrangement is a desire to force me to refrain from desecrating Shabbat for religious reasons. But my reason for agreeing is not the desire to consider their aspirations in this matter. I have already said that the religious motivation is not legitimate in my eyes as a justification for a law that will limit me. My reason for agreeing is my independent wish, as a free Jewish woman living in a country that wishes to preserve its Jewish-Hebrew public culture via a salient and significant expression of the uniqueness of Shabbat in the Israeli public arena. I accept, therefore, that there is a restriction of liberty on cultural grounds.


Freedom of occupation, freedom of action and freedom of property as constitutional rights do not mean freedom to conduct business activities seven days a week or 24 hours a day. Restriction for reasons of enforcing a day of general rest is a worthy cause.


The socio-cultural justification for the uniqueness of Shabbat separating it from weekdays is based on the assumption that the entire Israeli public has an interest in the existence of single day a week as a day of rest. Moreover, it is not sufficient that every individual has the right to rest from his work one day a week, at his choice or at the interest of his employer. It is essential for society that this be a common day designated for the entire public, so that joint activities of groups, families and others are made possible.


Holding activities on Saturdays (both for essential institutions and in recreational places) helps to maintain the welfare of those in need of these services, but it makes it difficult for those who must work and operate them to enjoy the weekly day of rest. If we repeal the general prohibition on trading and manufacturing operations on Shabbat, we will soon arrive at a situation in which workers will be greatly pressured to work on Saturdays, for economical and for other reasons.

Ruth Gavison is a professor of law at the Hebrew University and an Israel Prize laureate. In 2003, she published, together with Rabbi Yaakov Medan, a covenant which constitutes an attempt to reach an understanding between religious and non-religious people on matters of religion and state.​

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