Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

29 Nissan 5762 - April 11, 2002 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








If You Don't Come on Shabbos, Don't Bother Coming on Sunday

by Binyomin Rabinowitz

A recent investigative report, on Israeli television, focused primarily on religious police officers discharged from Israel Police due solely to their Shabbos observance.

The most salient example cited in the report was the case of Yechezkel (Chezi) Almassi of Moshav Ma'agalim in the Negev, who wrote the following words in his opening statement during his High Court appeal: "I am a religious Jew. I am a believer. I observe the commandments of my religion, among which is the observance of the Sabbath and its holiness, along with the commandments and halachos dictated by the verse, `Remember the Sabbath Day to keep it holy.'"

Chezi Almassi's story started more than a year ago. He had then served in the police force for some nine years, during which he had carried out a variety of assignments and had even been recommended by his commanders for the officers' training course. From 5752 (1992) until 5758 (1998) Almassi served at the Netivot Police Station, where he encountered no notable friction.

Almassi, who was raised in a religious home, did everything in his power to follow the path outlined for him and continued to do so after he joined the police force. While he served at the Netivot Police Station his commanders showed consideration for the fact that he was religious. When Almassi was required to work on Shabbos, he always walked from his home to the police station.

Over the last several years, Almassi grew more scrupulous in his observance of mitzvos and began to participate in gemora and other shiurim. Then a year and a half ago, he was transferred to Be'er Sheva where he was assigned as a patrol unit commander in charge of some 20 policemen. The new assignment was made following a meeting between Almassi and former Negev Region Brigadier Commander Mordechai Nachmani.

During the course of their conversation Almassi stated that he was religious and wanted to continue observing Shabbos. He noted that he does not drive on Shabbos and that being assigned to the patrol unit in Be'er Sheva was problematic because of the distance from his home. Nevertheless, Nachmani told him the Israeli police force works 24 hours per day, 365 days per year, and that he would have to make a decision about his own future: he could not keep Shabbos and continue to work for Israel Police.

Almassi pointed out that he could be assigned to a variety of other posts that do not involve work on Shabbos, but he was unable to sway the Brigadier Commander.

The new assignment put Almassi in a predicament. But when his commander scheduled him for a shift on Shabbos, Almassi did not show up for work.

You're Fired!

As a result, he was called in by Nachmani who said he had decided to recommend that Almassi be dismissed from the police force. Almassi then filed a High Court appeal through Attorney Menachem Chachmon, who cited conversations Almassi held with the District Rabbi and the Chief Rabbi of the police force. Both said explicitly that patrol units perform various tasks on Shabbos that involve no pikuach nefesh or even sofeik pikuach nefesh, including transporting policemen from their homes to the police station and back, collecting evidence for investigations that are not urgent, preparing written reports, writing traffic and parking tickets, and much more. These activities have no possibility of being performed on Shabbos.

The police rabbinate tried to assist Almassi, contacting the Regional Commander and then the District Commander, but neither of them responded, although the former issued orders to assign Almassi to routine tasks on Shabbos. Even when other station commanders and other high-ranking officers declared that they would be willing to accept Almassi to positions that do not involve chilul Shabbos, the top ranks refused and continued to insist on their original demand that Almassi be fired.

The upper echelon of Israel Police has no understanding of the idea that real security depends on Shabbos observance: "The Written Torah promises that if Yisroel keeps the Shabbos as a day of rest, HaKodosh Boruch Hu will guard over the Land, and if they do not keep it, He will issue decrees and destroy the Land. In fact we learn that the Diaspora is a form of punishment for chilul Shabbos" (Kad Hakemach, Shabbos).

At a certain point various other suggestions were also evaluated, such as finding sleeping quarters for Almassi in Be'er Sheva near the police station. But since the problem extended beyond the issue of riding in vehicles, to include the fundamental tasks demanded of a patrol commander, these options were also dismissed. During the preliminary hearing, Almassi said several police commanders had requested that he transfer to their units to serve in various capacities, and some commanders had even contacted the Regional Commander -- who rejected all their proposals outright.

Specifically, Negev Detention Commander Superintendent Tzvi Klein offered to recruit him as an escort commander -- a job that does not involve Shabbos shifts -- when the post became available, and even offered to find a replacement for him in the event that he was required to work on Shabbos. In another effort to solve the problem, Chief Superintendent David Biton, former Ashkelon Police Commander, was willing to make him head of the station's traffic office.

Superintendent Ron Dimri, head of the investigating office at the Be'er Sheva station, also said he would be willing to place him as an investigations commander, which does not require Shabbos shifts, and said he was personally prepared to replace him for Shabbos duty if necessary. Yet the Regional Commander rejected these initiatives as well.

Court Arguments

In his High Court appeal Attorney Chachmon emphasized that with a bit of goodwill by all parties involved, good, viable solutions could be found, since most of the commanders currently working at the Be'er Sheva Station are not required to work on Shabbos. Nevertheless all efforts failed, and Police Commissioner Yehuda Wilk sent Almassi a discharge notice.

During the time leading up to the dismissal, Yosi Shriki, the general Negev representative in the Prime Minister's Office, intervened on Almassi's behalf. As a result the Ministry of Internal Security issued a statement saying the issue was being reevaluated by Israel Police. But a few days later Attorney Tal Braverman from the personnel department at the National Police Headquarters sent a letter to Attorney Chachmon saying the Police Commissioner was sustaining his decision to dismiss Almassi. At that point Attorney Chachmon filed a High Court appeal requesting that Almassi's dismissal be blocked and that an interim court order be issued to keep Almassi at his post.

Chachmon argued that "the Regional Commander did not demonstrate proper openness in dealing with the problem that arose, and placed the matter on a disciplinary track, failing to heed the very difficult personal crisis in which the appellant was embroiled, and ignoring the many solutions presented in the matter. Station commanders and police commanders in various other locations are often required to find solutions to settle discrepancies between the needs of the police on the one hand, and the needs of the religious police officer who wants to keep the commandments of his religion on the other hand, and in most cases, appropriate solutions are found. Many religious police officers who made such requests were given assignments that solved the problem, but in the case before us the Regional Commander's position in this matter precluded a suitable, viable solution to the sensitive problem at issue."

In his legal arguments Attorney Chachmon pointed out that the decision made regarding Almassi was unreasonable and, in the circumstances, showed arbitrariness and unscrupulousness in addition to an illegal lack of consideration for Almassi's convictions as a religious man. Judge Beinish issued an interim order requiring that Almassi return to his job until a final ruling was handed down.

Despite the court order the police refused to reinstate Almassi operationally, as commander of a patrol unit at the Be'er Sheva Police Station.

Attorney Chief Superintendent Kedmi wrote in response to Chachmon's protest, "Returning to work can take several forms, including a paid vacation as was the case regarding your client, and by so doing the police fulfilled its obligation to carry out the interim order."

Attorney Chachmon eventually decided to file an additional appeal to the High Court; the justices severely reprimanded the police but did not take any action on the matter.

During the course of the appeal process, the two sides submitted affidavits to the High Court. In Almassi's statement he notes the fact that the unit he commanded received national recognition for excellence. "Observing the Sabbath is among my highest values," writes Almassi. "I requested and I am still requesting to continue my police service and at the same time to be granted freedom of beliefs and freedom of religion. I am convinced that this can be accomplished. In order to observe the Sabbath I would gladly work additional hours and additional days every month, or even shifts in other units or at other stations.

"I do not have the faintest shadow of a doubt that if the Regional Commander sincerely exhibits a small measure of understanding for my religious convictions, the matter would be resolved, both for the police's sake and for my own, as someone who would like to continue to serve in the police force for many years to come."

Official Police Policy

Attached to Almassi's affidavit was a copy of official police standing orders explicitly stating that Israel Police "will allow all of its personnel to fulfill religious commandments and customs." The same document stipulates, "The manner in which this right is granted, in consideration of religious law on the one hand and operational needs on the other, is to be determined by orders issued by the National Headquarters."

As an additional example Almassi cites the standing police order according to which a religious officer who normally participates in a certain taanis "should be released from all non-vital duties during the course of the fast." In light of these guidelines, says Almassi, what took place in the field in his case deviated markedly from these norms for all policemen.

The reality is that on Shabbos and holidays, patrolmen also perform tasks that do not involve pikuach nefesh, such as transporting policemen to and from their homes, locating witnesses and other routine work.

The policy regarding Shabbos applies to the entire police force: "Shabbatot and holidays are rest days when only pressing security or operational tasks should be performed. Police officers should be dismissed from work on Fridays and before holidays in such a manner that every member of the police force can arrive at his home one hour before the beginning of Shabbat or the holiday. Return times should also be planned to allow policemen to remain in their homes for one hour after the end of the Shabbat or holiday."

What Now?

Based on High Court decisions issued over the past several years, it seems highly unlikely that the court will depart from its longstanding tradition of casting asunder every matter related to religion and halocho, but maybe, just maybe, this time the decision will be different.

This case reveals just one of many instances of secular coercion in the State of Israel. But perhaps here one police officer's determination will foster a positive outcome in the matter.

Shabbos in Ashdod

The story of Chezi Almassi was played out a second time in Ashdod with different characters and a few new plot twists. This time the villain is Ashdod commander Chief Superintendent Shimon Ben-Lulu.

Before his arrival in the southern port city one year ago, religious police officers were able to work and make their living at the local police station with no special problems. But as soon as Ben-Lulu stepped in he called off standing agreements regarding the religious and chareidi policemen at the station, instructing them to come to work on Shabbos.

"Under my command religious policemen will work on Shabbat," he proclaimed during one of his first weekly staff meetings, "and anybody who doesn't want to can look for a job somewhere else."

According to one of the local newspapers he even told the religious policemen "to shave off their beards and go to work on Shabbat."

Until Ben-Lulu assumed control, seven of the 150 policemen were observant, including a few who had become more observant over the previous few years. Ben- Lulu's predecessor, Commander Nissim Mor (currently Assistant Police Commissioner), was more accommodating of the religious officers, making every effort to help them avoid chilul Shabbos. Mor even made a formal agreement on Shabbos observance that satisfied all parties.

Ben-Lulu's "secular revolution" shocked even the non- religious policemen, some of whom volunteered to cover Shabbos shifts for their religious colleagues. Ben-Lulu refused to allow it. He claimed secular officers had lodged complaints against their religious co-workers, an assertion one officer later denied.

Former Station Commander Nissim Mor was very surprised to hear about the radical changes his successor made. He says that during his command there were agreements with the heads of different desks to take religious officers' needs into consideration. "Some of these agreements I inherited and left unchanged. In the case of Ronen Avraham I myself transferred him to the Educational Institutions patrol because he became religious. I maintain that if someone does not honor previous agreements, eventually the new agreements he makes will not be honored. Although we are a police organization, if personal needs can be taken into consideration within certain limits, I try to do so."

One newspaper report chronicled the stories of all of the religious and chareidi policemen who encountered problems under the new Station Commander:

Detective Y.R. had been released from working Shabbos shifts as a duty-investigator, with the consent of his unit's officers and co-workers, but was then forced to resume working on Shabbos. Officer Y.A. and several other officers were assigned to patrols on Shabbos. Youth investigator A.N., who recently became religious and had been released from Shabbos duty, was also forced to work patrol duty. N. was also forced to come to work at the station on Shabbos, but when the duty commander ordered him to drive home policemen who had completed their shifts, he refused and as a result was given a disciplinary hearing.

Ronen Avraham found the police to be highly uncooperative regarding his insistence on keeping the sanctity of the Shabbos. One Friday afternoon he was assigned to a shift that ended at 10:00 p.m. At sunset, when Ronen asked whether he would be given assignments that involved chilul Shabbos, he was told simply that he would do whatever was asked of him.

"They decided to make things difficult for me all along the way. I told them I'd be willing to work every motzei Shabbat and every Friday from morning until an hour before Shabbat, which are times most police prefer not to work, but I met with a stone wall. I tried to explain how important kedushat Shabbat is to me, that Shabbat is mekor habrachah, the symbol of the Jewish people throughout the generations, but nothing helped."

Ronen also recalls that when he served at the Taibe Station, the Druse and Muslim officers did not work on their fast days. "Everyone understood that these officers could not work on these days, but when a Jew wants to keep his religion, here they don't let him," says Ronen.

Ben-Lulu says previous agreements with individual officers have no relevance to him and that all of the officers at the station should be treated equally. "There is no anti- religious intention here and I am not waging a war against religious officers," he insists.

The spokeswoman for the Lachish District stated that the Ashdod Station Commander has made no declaration of war against any one segment of police officers or another, and also pointed out that Israel is facing a difficult period in terms of security.

Yet the spokeswoman's remarks show a lack of understanding of one essential fact: Shabbos, and not the police, is what ensures the public's safety.

The police spokeswoman launched a strong attack on Ashdod's religious policemen saying, "They have found a way to shirk their duties and found a refuge for their problems in the media at a time when their peers are being called to stand by the flag . . . Furthermore, names of policemen were included in an article after they had asked not to be mentioned and, in a meeting with the Station Commander, had arrived at a solution to their problems that was accepted by both sides."

She added that the officers' employment has received the full support of the District Police Rabbi, since their work involves pikuach nefesh, "and the Station Command definitely takes special needs into consideration, but each case is evaluated on an individual basis."

Court Cases

The predicament of Ronen Avraham and Ashdod's other religious police officers led to a High Court appeal filed by Attorney Yoram Faye in the name of Ronen Avraham. Avraham also filed a complaint against Ben- Lulu to the Justice Ministry's Department for the Investigation of Police Officers. In his appeal, Faye claimed the Station Commander's conduct represents a violation of the Equal Employment Opportunities Law and constitutes religious discrimination.

The High Court judges accepted the appeal and issued an interim order to the Minister of Internal Security and the Ashdod Police Commander not to force Avraham to work on Shabbos until a final ruling has been rendered. Avraham's appeal was filed while a decision is still pending regarding Chezi Almassi, and a similar ruling is expected to be issued in both cases.

Regardless of the High Court's decision, both Almassi and Avraham will continue to observe the sanctity of Shabbos, which is referred to as an os (". . . beini uvein benei Yisroel os hi le'olom . . . " Shemos 31:17) to demonstrate its significance to us. As long as the sign (of Shabbos) remains, everyone knows that the tradesman or merchant is here. But the moment the sign is taken down, people know the merchant or tradesman has left entirely (Chofetz Chaim). Almassi and Avraham have no intention of taking the sign down.

Official Response

The following statement was the State Attorney's reaction to the appeal filed by the director of the State Attorney's Division of Labor Disputes, Attorney Nurit Alstein: "Police command, and not the Police Rabbi, decides what activities will be performed on Shabbat, and this is the Rabbi's own position, both the current one and his predecessor . . . Contrary to the positive picture the appellant [Almassi] presents in his affidavit, his performance of duty in the patrol was far from satisfactory . . . "

The statement goes on to say that although in his affidavit Almassi demonstrated a willingness to work extra hours during the week or to be transferred to various other command posts that do not involve chilul Shabbos, in practice "working on Shabbat is an integral part of the police's operational work . . . Regarding the distinction the appellant makes between assignments that can be performed on Shabbat and those that cannot be performed on Shabbat according to halachah, the respondents [the State Attorney] will demonstrate that this distinction is in fact a very complex matter, and certainly cannot be drawn in advance."

A top legal authority who examined the above statement told Yated Ne'eman: "For the who-knows-which time the Attorney has demonstrated that the legal system thinks we live in a Western nation and not in a Jewish nation. This is a response full of chutzpah that lacks any trace of Jewishness."

One whole chapter of the rebuttal devoted to "various posts to which the appellant has requested to be assigned" makes a claim that all of these positions are crucial and require work on Shabbos. On the issue of driving policemen home at the end of their shifts, for example, Alstein writes, "Transporting is intended to prevent a situation in which dozens of patrolmen who reported for work on Shabbat are left stranded at the station for a day-and-a-half . . . "

Regarding parking tickets she writes, "It would not be difficult to imagine cases in which illegal parking could result in extremely disruptive situations. For example, parked vehicles that block a lane of traffic, including ambulance traffic, could cause grave results in terms of human life or safety. Blocking a lane of traffic is liable to cause conflict and strife . . . "

Alstein continues in this fatuous vein and even outdoes herself: "Based on police experience, street vendors who sell their wares in proximity to athletic courts and fields sometimes sell firecrackers that may be thrown during the course of play, resulting in injuries . . . "

Another View

Of course there is another, very different way of looking at the issue of writing parking tickets, fining peddlers and responding to noise complaints on Shabbos Kodesh: "It is a sign that bears witness to the fact that HaKodosh Boruch Hu created the world in six days and rested on the seventh. And it is also a sign for the Jew who carries the miracle of this glory on himself, for he believes that HaKodosh Boruch Hu creates the world and renews it. He rules over all and we must do His will with all our might and soul, for everything belongs to Him. And through his genuine belief in Hashem he invokes kedushas Hashem in his heart, as it says, `Ki os he beini uveineichem ledoroseichem leda'as ki ani Hashem mekadishchem.' (Chofetz Chaim ibid.).

Both Almassi and Avraham were unwilling to desecrate Shabbos or to accept this absurd definition of pikuach nefesh. Yet entire paragraphs of the State Attorney's rebuttal discuss the issue of "pikuach nefesh." "In practice the appellant does not distinguish between standing police orders and religious commandments, and he conducts himself as if religious commandments determine his duties on Shabbat. It goes without saying that such an approach cannot be recognized in a hierarchical, semi-military system like Israel Police, and the Police Rabbi himself stated that even he, as someone who serves on the police force and is subject to its orders and regulations, is not authorized to set policies regarding the duties of an officer on Shabbat, as required by police orders."

Almassi maintains that there are plenty of policemen who want to work on Shabbat and the State Attorney is trying to catch him for supposedly gaining benefit from his colleagues' chilul Shabbos.

In Ronen Avraham's High Court appeal, as well, the State Attorney's remarks seem to suggest an attempt to keep religion from encroaching on accepted police practices. The rebuttal notes that the police receive numerous requests by policemen who do not want to work on Shabbos, and in the Southern District alone, "a significant number of observant officers have asked to be released from work on Shabbat and are awaiting legal decisions on the matter."

The conclusion of the State Attorney's rebuttal includes extensive remarks clearly indicating that the Chief Police Rabbi has no authority to determine which activities are considered chilul Shabbos and which fall under the category of pikuach nefesh. "Police orders explicitly state that the Chief Police Rabbi is the posek in matters of religion and kashrus and is responsible for directing religious matters. The Chief Police Rabbi has no authority to determine police practices regarding operational or security matters."

The final conclusion: "Due to the nature of Israel Police's activities, it cannot permit the release of police officers from mandatory duties on Shabbat. . . . It should be stressed that the case before us is not an individual problem but as the above shows, an institutional problem. This fact must be taken into consideration as well."

The legal system is conveying a message that the religious are not wanted in Israel Police, just as they have effectively been barred from the Israel Electric Corporation and other companies and factories that desecrate Shabbos openly.

From the beginning of the deliberations, deciding judges Eliyahu Mazza, Yaakov Turkel and Edmund Levi suggested that Almassi retract his petition, explaining that police command alone -- not the Police Rabbi or the petitioner himself -- is authorized to determine who works on Shabbos and which assignments he covers.

During the course of the deliberations Attorney Chachmon tried to cancel the letter of dismissal before it took effect, since his client Chezi Almassi was willing to take off his stripes and return to the ranks as a regular policemen at the Netivot Station, which he could reach by walking several kilometers from his home. Both police officials and the State's Attorney rejected the proposal.

In response to the High Court decision Chachmon said, "The implication of the High Court's position is that a religious policeman who earnestly wants to work within the police system and on the other hand to observe the mitzvos may find himself discharged. This is an unacceptable reality in a Jewish state, and contradicts the principle that a religious person should be allowed to carry out his beliefs. The High Court's stance also contradicts the police's standing orders, which clearly stipulate that religious needs must be taken into account and that the Police Rabbinate be consulted."

Almassi claims that many officers who tried to allow him to keep kedushas Shabbos received instructions from above "to crack down on me as much as possible and not to help me."

With tears in his eyes, Almassi's father reads aloud a letter he sent to Minister of Internal Security Uzi Landau. "I am unable to sleep at night. I carry with me a feeling of anguish over what was done to my son. As a Jew living here in Israel, it is difficult for me to accept this policy. It is difficult for me to see my grandchildren suffering merely because their father was fired for wanting to keep his religion's commandments."


In Maasai Lemelech the Chofetz Chaim explains that there are various levels of Shabbos observance: Some people are careful not to desecrate the Shabbos, while others not only refrain from chilul Shabbos but meticulously honor it as well. In the final analysis, reward is granted according to the effort invested in observing Shabbos.

Chezi Almassi and Ronen Avraham were willing to make sacrifices in order to keep Shabbos, and have earned a great reward for this kiddush Hashem.

Yirmiyohu Hanovi Spoke About Shabbos

Yirmiyohu admonished Am Yisroel to keep the Shabbos and told them that keeping Shabbos would preserve Jerusalem and the Davidic Kingdom. He prophesied that if they did not observe Shabbos, the city would be destroyed. Said Yirmiyohu, "And if you listen to Me and . . . sanctify the Shabbos Day to do no work. . . . then this city will be settled forever. If you do not heed me to sanctify the Shabbos Day . . . I will light a fire . . . and it will consume the palaces of Jerusalem, and it will not be quenched. (Yirmiyohu 17:24-27)"


All material on this site is copyrighted and its use is restricted.
Click here for conditions of use.