Orthodox and Secular Jews Fight Over Shaping Jerusalem's Character

Yossi Cohen. Image via Michele Chabin/RNS

Yossi Cohen was shocked when city inspectors warned him last month to close his downtown convenience store during the Jewish Sabbath or else be socked with fines.

“For 20 years I’ve been open during Shabbat (the Hebrew for Sabbath) and suddenly the city decides I have to close?” said Cohen, one of eight convenience store owners ordered to shut down from sundown Friday until Saturday night.

“The message is clear: The municipality doesn’t want non-religious people in this city.”

The closure order, which faces a court hearing Sept. 16, was part of a compromise that Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat recently struck with ultra-Orthodox city council members who threatened to block a movie multiplex from opening on the Sabbath in a secular part of the city unless the convenience stores were shut on the Sabbath.

Orthodox Jewish Commencement Speaker Finds a Shabbat Workaround

Photo via Jonathan Cohen / Binghamton University / RNS

Don Greenberg. Photo via Jonathan Cohen / Binghamton University / RNS

When 2,500 students and their families gather on the upstate New York campus for the Watson School of Engineering graduation on Saturday, Greenberg will still take his place at the podium. And on jumbo screens on either side of the stage, he will watch himself deliver the graduation address he taped in the university’s video studio three days earlier.


Biblical Economics and Ecology for the 21st Century

Caring for the Earth illustration, Sunny studio-Igor Yaruta /

Caring for the Earth illustration, Sunny studio-Igor Yaruta /

In the secular American political world, even among  progressives, two progressive focuses – social justice and healing of the Earth  – have remained mostly segregated from each other.

But the Bible, in one of its crucial passages, intertwine social justice and the urge toward healing Earth. It is as if the Bible  – after watching the alienation of two May Days (pagan spring and workers’ social justice) from each other –  had shrugged impatiently and said: “Now here’s the way to do it!”

The Bible calls for an entire year of rest for the land and its workers, every seventh year. Deuteronomy adds that in that year, everyone’s debts are annulled. (Deut. 15: 1-3). Thus the Bible sees economics and ecologics as intimately intertwined, and calls for a practice of strong, spiritually rooted regulation of both.

Leviticus calls this seventh year a Shabbat Shabbaton – restfulness to the exponential power of Restfulness, an echo and expansion of the restful seventh day. Deuteronomy calls the year “shmitah”  – “release” or “non-attachment.”

Why all this? Because, says YHWH, YyyyHhhhWwwwHhhh, The Interbreathing of all life, “The earth is Mine. You are but sojourners, temporary visiting-settlers, with Me.”  (Lev 25: 23)

Yoga Sabbath: Shabbat Shal-OM.

800px-US_Navy_101108-N-8977L-001_Sara_Ukley,_a_morale,_welfare_and_recreation_fitness_instructor,_teaches_yoga_during_a_health_fair_and_aerobic-a-thonJust a few days after I returned from my respite in the mountains, Israeli forces killed eight Turkish nationals and one American on a Gaza-bound aid flotilla. Protests erupted all over Israel and Palestine.

In the midst of this tragic chaos I found myself visiting my yoga center more often than usual, hoping to find another glimpse of the peace I had tasted so vividly just a few days before. Perhaps these wise, centered people could offer a perspective that would look forward to a vision of understanding, or reconciliation -- a vision too often missed by politicians, military officials, media, and even activists.