Jewish Culture

Ben Gurion 82 years ago: “Would We Keep Shabbat If We Had a Jewish State?”

This week there is supposed to be a vote on the “merchant law” whether or not stores should be able to open on Shabbat.  On the 11th of Tevet 5696 (1936) David Ben Gurion wrote a letter expressing how Shabbat should look in the public arena if there would ever be a Jewish state. This was 11 years before the state became a reality. He wrote:

“If we would have our own state the state would decree to make it mandatory. I know sometimes there are difficulties with keeping the law but this law we would take upon ourselves from a cultural societal recognition of the need for a mandatory day of rest. If we would have a state, it would decree it.” 

In ‘Chadrei Charedim’ historian Eliahu Zalesko points out that the 82nd anniversary of this letter was last Friday the 11th of Tevet. The letter was sent in reference to the Zionist Congress decision to forbid the public desecration of Shabbat by official Zionist bodies or those supported by the congress. This decision was made after the Mizrachi movement threatened to withdraw from the congress because of the Shabbat desecration taking place. Ben Gurion sent the letter to the ‘Poalim’ laborers group called ‘BeTelem’ (in the furrow) an agricultural group that had recently settled in Nachlat Yehudah near Rishon LeZion. Ben Gurion was told the group was publicly desecrating the Shabbat by digging a well there on Shabbat and this was the letter he sent in response.

Ben Gurion who died at age 87 in December 1973 wasn’t known for being devoutly religious. He said the first time he was called to the Torah was for his grandson’s bar mitzvah. Even so he had a deep love for the Tanach (Bible, Prophets and Scriptures) and had a Bible group in the prime minister residence when he was prime minister. When appearing before the Peel Commission Ben Gurion stated clearly: “Our claim to the land of Israel stems not from the Balfour Declaration or the mandate; it predates those. The Tanach is our mandate, it was written by us in our language in this very land; this is our mandate. Our historical right existed from the beginning of the Jewish nation and the mandate and Balfour declaration come only to recognize that right and ratify it. We are the children of the Hebrew nation and this is the sole birthplace of the Hebrew nation only for this reason we have a right to this land.”

This same Ben Gurion though personally not Shabbat observant recognized the need of the Jewish nation to publicly keep the Shabbat.



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