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A Two-Day Weekend in Israel?

With July 4th behind them, Americans can look forward to closing out the summer season with Labor Day on September 5th. All told, they will enjoy ten national holidays. Across the Atlantic, Britons will have nine "bank holidays" in 2012; Germans 11; French 10; and Italians 12. And, of course, in each of these countries, people have the leisure of weekends from the close of business on Friday until Monday morning.

Relevant Links
Never on Sunday  Michele Chabin, Jewish Week. “I remember Sundays from England,” said one native Londoner with a nostalgic sigh.
Working for the Weekend  Jonathan Lis, Haaretz. Netanyahu is of two minds on a shortened workweek.
American Style  William Kolbrener, Washington Post. In addition to synchronizing Israeli businesses with the world’s markets, a Monday-Friday workweek might allow for a welcome catching of the collective breath.

In Israel, however, Sunday is the start of the work week. On the face of it, Israelis otherwise enjoy an almost equally bountiful number of off days: eight. On closer inspection, however, it turns out that all but one of these are religious holidays—Yom Kippur, Rosh Hashanah, and so onthe singular exception being Independence Day.

New immigrants to Israel from Western countries (particularly those who are observant) are likely to confess that the absence of Sundays off has made for a difficult cultural adjustment.

But as Israelis are not obliged to work on Fridays, don't they already have a two-day weekend?  Not really. For one, Friday is a regular school day in Israel. Banks are open; so is the post office.  Building goes on at construction sites and sanitation workers collect garbage. There are no reliable figures for how many Israelis have Fridays off, but even for those fortunate enough to have the day to themselves, Fridays can still feel frenetic with sidurim (chores) like supermarket shopping, running errands, and preparing for Shabbat, the Sabbath, before the shops close early. 

For Sabbath-observers, the "day of rest" can take on its own hectic quality with morning and afternoon synagogue services, family meals, and lots of socializing. While observant Jews do not travel, secular Israelis without automobiles must make do with taxis or stay close to home, because in most places there is little in the way of public transportation.  Additionally, most shops, restaurants, and places of entertainment are closed.

Not surprisingly, many Anglo-Israelis along with immigrants from the former Soviet Union would gladly work part-day on Fridays, just as they did in the "Old Country," in order to get a breather on Sunday. Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky has long campaigned to make Sunday a day of leisure. His thought is that sharing Sundays off would reduce social and religious tensions and create opportunities for positive interaction between observant and secular Israelis.

Arguing that Israel needs to be in synch with the global economy, Likud Party powerbroker Silvan Shalom has also long been committed to the five-day workweek with Sundays off. Why should Tel Aviv's stock market be closed when everyone else's is trading (on Friday) and open (on Sunday) when world markets are closed? His plan would have Israelis work until noon on Fridays and make up the difference with slightly longer hours Monday through Thursday. There would be a five-day school week with longer hours. The result, Shalom predicts, would be a calmer, more harmonious country. 

Now, two Likud Knesset members, Ze'ev Elkin and Yariv Levin, have introduced legislation along the lines proposed by Shalom.  Their angle is that changing demographicsincreasing numbers of religiously observant Israelishave provided a fresh economic incentive for a Sunday that would encourage this sector to spend money on cultural activities, sporting events, and at the malls.  

Many but plainly not all native-born Israelis are willing to go along with the idea. Israel's secular majority prefers not working on Shabbat (though 12 percent do). On the other hand, younger secular Israelis, having found workarounds to mandated Shabbat closings, feel as though they already have a normal two-day weekend and have no great desire to exchange Friday for Sunday.

While some in the national religious sector have long favored the Sunday option, others are more wary. They like the idea of having a day off to do some of the same things their secular family and friends do, but worry that they will not have enough time, after working a shortened Friday, to prepare for Shabbat or travel to distant family before sundown. Others are dubious that having Sundays off will actually reduce desecration of the Sabbath. And the more insular ultra-Orthodox are vehemently opposed to Sundays on the grounds that it is a Christian rest day. Last but not least, Muslim citizens (some 16 percent of the population) are also less than keen to have to work on Fridays since it is the only day when believers are obligated to offer midday prayers communally in a mosque.

The economic impact of making the switch will likely carry the greatest weight. Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz worries that a five-day workweek, with Sunday off, would result in Fridays being fretted away, especially in the short days of the winter months. In effect, Israel would be transitioning unthinkingly to a four-day workweek. Better to officially transform Fridays to the start of a two-day weekend, says Steinitz.  On the other hand, the country's hoteliers support the Sunday scheme, as do the Manufacturers Association, Chamber of Commerce, and teachers' unions. Bank of Israel Governor Stanley Fischer has not come out publicly on the issue but is reportedly sympathetic. The same is said of Histadrut labor federation chief Ofer Eini. 

Following the old adage "when in doubt form a committee," Netanyahu has appointed Eugene Kandel, head of his National Economic Council, to chair a panel that is to look into the matter.

No one doubts that frazzled Israelis could use the down time of a real Sunday. Who would not savor a post-Shabbat sunset knowing that they have the next day off? But creating a real Sunday weekend would require radical cultural adaptations, major revamping of the school calendar, and tortuous amending of the nation's labor laws.

The "peace process" may be an easier undertaking.

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Eliyahu Konn on July 8, 2011 at 7:48 am (Reply)
The article does not address the concept of work and that it is the only means by which entropy is overcome. Therefore six days of work is just as essential as Shabbat. To gloss over the Torah (Jewish) khagim of Pesach, Shavuot, Succot, Yom Teruah as religious and not breaks in work legislated by HaSheim is telling. The Torah institutes plenty of time off. Add to that employer paid vacations and now how much time is it. Don't copy the nations!
ANGELA BARCZYK on July 8, 2011 at 10:43 am (Reply)
Being a regular visitor to Israel I have thought a lot about this problem; I would much rather call it a "gift" instead since the spirit of Shabbath is based on the other days of the week which are working days.
In Europe weekends have lost every religious or spiritual meaning, Sundays are fundays and one can tell by the behaviour and state of mind of the pupils at school on Mondays what they were "given" the days before--- action, distraction, more computer games, ...
Even if one could decide on one of two weekend-days : wouldn`t it split the course of the biblical week and thus spoil the beauty and uniqueness of Shabbath?
DR on July 12, 2011 at 9:28 am (Reply)
I buy the argument that Israelis, especially Orthodox ones, need the extra day off that is not shabbat or yom tov to enjoy family time, etc.

However, making Sunday a second day or rest WILL DETRACT from the sanctity of shabbat, and non-religious Israelis won't know the difference between Shabbat and Sunday. The whole concept of a second day or rest is NOT a Jewish concept, and is definitely a gentile concept.

What is needed is an option for extra days off, but making them exclusively Jewish.

Fortunately, Judaism has the answer. Once a month we have a day or 2 called ROSH CHODESH, the new moon. As observant Jews know, there are extra morning prayers (Mussaf, Hallel, etc).

So why not make Rosh Chodesh a national holiday? Once a month, for one or two days, there would be a Holiday for everyone. No work, no school, no Shabbat, yet it is still a Jewish Holiday! An added benefit, Observant Jews won't have to rush their Rosh Chodesh prayers.

There are historical / biblical precedents for Celebrating Rosh Chodesh. The climax of the famous struggle between King Saul and King David took place on Rosh Chodesh, when King Saul had his monthly feast (see the "Machar Chodesh" haftorah). This should be re-instituted! The feast can be a formal meal, BBQ or anything that a family enjoys. Many Yeshiva's today host a monthly Rosh Chodesh breakfast. Why not make this more formal.

Let's give Israelis an extra day of rest in a traditionally JEWISH manner!
Joan Coplan on December 23, 2011 at 12:44 pm (Reply)
I like DR's idea of a national holiday of one or two days a month, on Rosh Hodesh. It would provide more time off for frazszled Israelis and protect the sanctity of Shabbat yet would be a holiday that maintains Jewish character. Further, it is a compromise from all points of view.

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