The Jewish community in Sydney is trying to catch up with Melbourne and at issue is the pushing of buttons.
I'm all in favor of keeping the Sabbath. After all according to Ex. 31.14 ‘Therefore you are to observe the sabbath, for it is holy to you. Everyone who profanes it shall surely be put to death; for whoever does any work on it, that person shall be cut off from among his people.
That sounds pretty intense and fairly demanding. So what's the deal with the buttons? Seems a couple of Jewish council members of Woollahra and Waverley have asked the RTA to help out and the RTA is willing. But at issue is ... is it legal according to halacha (Jewish precedential law) to have people walk into a signal/photo tripper that causes a stop light to change to 'walk' from 'don't walk?'
Wow, what a long way the rabbis are from Moses.
Of course, the Bible in Ex. 35.3 says, “You shall not kindle a fire in any of your dwellings on the sabbath day.”
That's the worrisome text. Is the kindling of a fire the same as an electrical spark?
What did Moses mean anyway? I think a helpful text is Num. 15.32 "Now while the sons of Israel were in the wilderness, they found a man gathering wood on the sabbath day." The man ended up being capitally punished, put to death, for working on the sabbath. And gathering wood sounds like a lot of work. I know. Yesterday I did some serious trimming of my garden from the weeds that have great strength. And the clearing of the bush and the scrub was a sweat-inducing activity. Jeremiah 17 has a similar command about hauling wood and bringing loads out of the house.
OK, so gardening heavily is out. And according to Neh. 10.31 "As for the peoples of the land who bring wares or any grain on the sabbath day to sell, we will not buy from them on the sabbath or a holy day" so is marketing and selling and buying. See also Neh. 13.15-22. No selling. No buying. Fine.
But walking through a photoray to change a light switch? Is this what Moses wanted? Is this what God wanted?
I had a personal experience with lights and the Sabbath in 1970 and as a result gave up the halacha-ruling rabbis who made a mountain out of a molehill.
In answer to the allegations of Luke 13.14 "And the synagogue official, indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, began saying to the multitude in response, “There are six days in which work should be done; therefore come during them and get healed, and not on the Sabbath day.”
Jesus replied to it this way in Matt. 12.5-8 “Or have you not read in the Law, that on the Sabbath the priests in the temple break the Sabbath, and are innocent? For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.”
That same Sabbath day Jesus healed a guy, citing "What man shall there be among you, who shall have one sheep, and if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will he not take hold of it, and lift it out? Of how much more value then is a man than a sheep! So then, it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.”
So Jesus in the sight of the synagogue official healed a woman as it records, Luke 13.16 “And this woman, a daughter of Abraham as she is, whom Satan has bound for eighteen long years, should she not have been released from this bond on the Sabbath day?”
Probably the clearest example is in John 5.1-11 where we read of a healing at the pool in Bethsaida in Jerusalem. "Jesus said to him, “Arise, take up your pallet, and walk.” And immediately the man became well, and took up his pallet and began to walk. Now it was the Sabbath on that day. Therefore the Jews were saying to him who was cured, “It is the Sabbath, and it is not permissible for you to carry your pallet.”
But he answered them, “He who made me well was the one who said to me, ‘Take up your pallet and walk.’”
I like this scene. The lame man is healed. The Jewish leadership should rejoice. Instead, they worried about technicalities of halacha. They missed the Lord of the Sabbath. God was in their midst and they worried about minutae. They should have been happy and celebrated. The lame man was celebrating. The one who healed him could make new halacha. The healer became the teacher.
Jesus still is the healer. He still is the teacher.
This Sabbath, let's rejoice in God's salvation. This Sabbath, let's bring people freedom.
In Jesus' words, recorded in John 7.23 “If a man receives circumcision on the Sabbath that the Law of Moses may not be broken, are you angry with Me because I made an entire man well on the Sabbath? Then in John 9, Jesus healed a blind man on the Sabbath. What happened? John 9.16 "Therefore some of the Pharisees were saying, “This man is not from God, because He does not keep the Sabbath.” But others were saying, “How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?” And there was a division among them.
And friends, there is still a division among the Jews because of Jesus.
I know, this might push your button. You might be angered because Jesus has no right to be our messiah. You might be upset because your teachers have said things against the Messiah Jesus from Bethlehem.
But let's think like God thinks. Let's get on his agenda. Let's see things from his point of view.
That seems Mosaic. That seems reasonable. And that, in this new year, will give us reason to rejoice.
Jesus is Lord of the Sabbath, and he wants to be your Lord as well.
Below is the report from this week's Australia Jewish News.
by Michelle Romain
SYDNEY’S Orthodox rabbinate is examining whether the Roads and Traffic Authority’s (RTA’s) proposal to install automated signals at two intersections in Bondi to assist Jewish pedestrians on Shabbat contravenes halacha.
The RTA has proposed installing the motion sensor-activated signals at the intersections of Old South Head Road with Victoria Road and Penkivil Street in Bondi, which are used by large numbers of Orthodox Jews to access nearby shuls.
The RTA proposal follows an earlier request by two local councillors to install timers on the lights at the intersections, which the RTA rejected, citing likely traffic delays.
Rabbi Dovid Slavin, executive director of the Yeshiva Gedolah Rabbinical College, is working with Waverley and Woollahra councils to ensure the crossings adhere to the laws of Shabbat.
But he doubts the Rabbinical Council of NSW will approve the sensor system.
“Walking in the path of a sensor to activate a pedestrian crossing is the same as pressing a button. But we can’t rule out anything without analysing the complete report.”
Rabbinical Council of NSW honorary secretary Rabbi Chaim Ingram also has doubts about the proposal.
“If you knowingly walk in the path of a sensor light causing it to go on indirectly, it goes back to the very heart of what Shabbat is – the free will of exercising restraint not to create activity [electricity] on Shabbat.
“The most minute things that cause a change of state can be forbidden on Shabbat,” Rabbi Ingram said.
Jewish councillors Tony Kay of Waverley and Isabelle Shapiro of Woollahra have lobbied the RTA to install automated signals at the intersections for the past two years. The pair drafted the initial proposal to install a timer on the traffic lights, which would operate on Friday nights and Saturday mornings.
Kay said both councils have agreed to the RTA’s sensor proposal, providing “the rabbinical community accepts the use of the technology on Shabbat”.
At a cost of $20,000, the sensor technology is 20 times more expensive than the timers, which reportedly cost $1000 to install. The RTA has agreed to share the cost of the sensors with the two councils.
Rabbi Slavin said the councils, the rabbis and the RTA are working together to find a solution.
“We are trying to work towards a timer that wouldn’t be imposing on RTA traffic flows and a button is not pressed,” Rabbi Slavin said. “There are many others who would be benefiting from this technology, such as the blind, the elderly and children.”
Melbourne has had timer-operated signals at several intersections in areas with large Orthodox populations for many years.