What's the Electricity Plan Really About?
It's not about making the country Shomer Shabbos
In the previous post, I discussed UTJ’s demand for electricity production to cease on Shabbat. But I left out the most important question: Why do they want this?
Some people probably think that it’s from a desire for the country to be more Shabbat-observant. This, alas, is naive.
Charedim do not particularly care about whether other people are Shabbat-observant, if it does not impact them negatively. In my home town of Ramat Beit Shemesh, it was perfectly clear that construction of new apartments was taking place on Shabbat, and there was no attempt to stop it. And when Lag B’Omer once fell on Motzai Shabbat, meaning that hundreds of people from emergency services would have to break Shabbat to prepare for it, the Zionist rabbis said that bonfires should be moved to Sunday night instead, while the charedi rabbis didn’t care. Goldknopf, the top MK for UTJ, used to run boycotts purportedly to prevent Chillul Shabbos, but these were exposed as nothing more than protection rackets.
Furthermore, the government breaks Shabbat in all kinds of ways. And so do all the utility companies. So what’s special about electricity?
The answer is that it has nothing to do with the country being more Shabbat-observant. It has to do with money.
The text of the demand states that “the government will work to resolve the desecration of the Sabbath in the production of electricity, including by encouraging local storage.” Bear in mind that whenever someone gives two reasons for something, it’s the second reason which is the real one. Similarly here, it’s the last part of the demand which is the key.
Everyone, including the charedi community, agrees that the baseline halacha is that it is permissible to use electricity that was generated by Jews on Shabbat. The reason is that there are many life-saving reasons why electricity is needed. Still, there is a stringent view that electricity should not be used. Many people in the charedi community choose to act stringently. Accordingly, they have generators for Shabbat, especially for their shuls - sometimes just for lighting, sometimes also for air-conditioning. These are enormous machines that run on diesel.
Now, these generators produce noxious fumes and are dangerous. But, as we saw with Meron, safety protocols are not of great concern to the charedi community. (Plus, if this was really a concern for them, then they would simply use regular electricity, which they agree is permissible me’ikkar ha-din and which they still use for refrigerators and so on.) There’s a much bigger problem with generators: they are very, very expensive, both to purchase and to operate.
And so here is the solution. Describe it as a general problem of desecration of the Sabbath, and you can save money - by transferring the cost to the rest of the community, which has to pay for “local storage” of electricity. This “local storage” is not for Tel Aviv, to minimize the chillul Shabbos there - it’s for charedi communities. Why should they have to pay for their chumras, when they can get the rest of the country to pay for it?
The “electricity plan” is not about national Shemiras Shabbos. It’s just another way to get the rest of the country to finance the charedi way of life.
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