Shine a Light: Advancing Progressive Values in Israel this Hanukkah. Night 7—Shabbat

About The Author

Chelsea Feuchs

Chelsea Feuchs is the Communications and Social Media Associate for ARZA, the Association of Reform Zionists of America. After studying for a year in Israel as a Dorot Fellow, she now works and lives in New York City.

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This Hanukkah, ARZA is working to shine a light on several challenges facing progressive Judaism in Israel. We do so with the intention to generate greater understanding, to increase the investment of Reform Jews in the Jewish State, and to center a connection to Israel in our communities. Each night for eight nights, check in with us to learn more about pressing issues and to advocate for equality, pluralism, and democracy in Israel.


There is no one right way to celebrate Hanukkah. Jews around the world commemorate this holiday with a variety of customs. Jews in Israel eat sufganiyot, but latkes are preferred in Eastern Europe and North America, and Jews in Italy enjoy honey-covered precipizi. Some illuminate their hanukkiah using wax candles, others with olive oil, and in India it is customary to use wicks dipped in coconut oil. On the 7th night of Hanukkah, Yemenite Jews mark Chag Ha’Banot to celebrate the heroines of the struggle against the Assyrians, Hannah and Judith. No matter the location, Jews embrace and transmit a variety of Hanukkah practices, all equally legitimate.

The same is true of Shabbat observance, though many in Israel are quick to judge one practice as superior to another. Saturday mornings in the ultra-Orthodox neighborhood of Mea Shearim are characterized by men in tall fur shtreimel hats walking to and from synagogue. For secular Israelis in Tel Aviv, spending time as a family at the beach may be the norm. Reform Israeli families in Haifa and Modi’in sit all together at Friday night services, while their Modern Orthodox counterparts sit separated by gender. Some pray using traditional texts, others use modified versions, and still others prefer to meditate or chant wordless melodies. Shabbat observances of all kinds exist in Israel, and all reflect a desire to connect to family, to community, and to Judaism.

The problem is that the ultra-Orthodox authorities in Israel have extensive power to impose their manner of observance on others. The national bus line, Egged, does not operate in most cities and towns in Israel between Friday evening and Saturday night. This means Israelis who do not have cars for financial, medical, or other personal reasons are left with very few (and very expensive) options for travel. Further, it prevents non-Jews living in Israel, such as low-wage home healthcare workers, from fully enjoying their only day off of work. These travel restrictions are simply unpopular, with 73% of Jews in Israel supporting some form of public transportation on Shabbat, perhaps running on a modified schedule.

The same ultra-Orthodox authorities shutter stores on Shabbat, including most grocery and corner stores. It is inconvenient for many people that simple and necessary items like food and beverages cannot be purchased for one day each week. Those favoring a more liberal approach in Tel Aviv celebrated a victory recently when the Israeli Supreme Court ruled that grocery stores could remain open in the city during Shabbat. Advocates hope that this decision will create a precedent for other cities whose residents favor a more liberal approach to Shabbat observance.

There is a beauty to rushing to get things done before Friday evening sets in, and there is a certain energy to those hours that is incredibly special in Israel, but it is unfair to impose traditional observance across the board. It is better to create an Israel in which people participate in Jewish practice of their own free will, celebrating the day of rest with a whole heart. We work to build an Israel that recognizes the validity of a variety of practices, that respects the ultra-Orthodox alongside the Reform alongside the secular. Just as there is no right way to celebrate Hanukkah, there is no right way to celebrate Shabbat.