JERUSALEM (Reuters) - A minister who heads an ultra-Orthodox Jewish party in Israel’s government resigned on Sunday in protest at rail work that was done on the Jewish sabbath, but Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition did not appear to be in immediate danger.
Health Minister Yakov Litzman, a rabbi from the United Torah Judaism party, followed through on a threat made on Friday to step down if repairs on the country’s railroads were carried out on Saturdays when, according to Jewish law, work is prohibited.
Though Litzman resigned, his party, with six of 120 seats in parliament, did not quit the government and Netanyahu maintained a coalition majority with control of 66 seats.
Ministers from other religious parties have not quit, with apparently little interest in toppling a government that has been receptive to their demands for funding for Orthodox institutions.
Political commentators cited pressure on Litzman from his faction’s spiritual leader, a rabbi who heads an ultra-Orthodox Hasidic group and is strongly opposed to rail work on the sabbath, as the main reason for his resignation.
“I tried, in every way, to prevent sabbath violations by Israel Railways, but having been unsuccessful, I can no longer bear ministerial responsibility for the strong blow to one of the eternal values of the Jewish people - the sabbath,” Litzman wrote in a resignation letter released to the media.
For decades, a delicate balance between modern-day life and religious observance has been maintained between Israel’s secular majority and a Jewish Orthodox minority.
Under that arrangement there is largely no bus or train service in Jewish cities and villages on Saturdays, but maintenance work has been routinely allowed.
Periodically, however, ultra-Orthodox groups mount pressure and protest when they feel that status quo is being tested.
Reporting by Ari Rabinovitch; Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Keith Weir