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Eurovision & Chillul Shabbat

Written by Rabbi Nadel, 11/6/2019

 Eurovision & Chillul Shabbat

The State of Israel had the distinct honor of hosting this year's Eurovision, the annual international song competition which features artists from across Europe. But as the final competition took place on Saturday Night, rehearsals, set-up, and preparations for the major event would result in mass Chillul Shabbat.

In advance of the competition, the Labor Ministry issued over 2,000 work permits, allowing employees to work on Shabbat. The permit stated that companies will be permitted to have workers work on Shabbat so long as it is "crucial."

In a public statement, religious leaders like Rav Chaim Kanievsky said organizers were set “to desecrate our holy and glorious Sabbath publicly and glaringly." 

Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu assured the leaders of  Orthodox political parties that Eurovision was an international event “not controlled by the government,” and said that “the Israeli government does not seek to desecrate the Sabbath, and most of the participants in the event are from abroad and not Jewish,” in a letter he wrote to them.

The beloved Shalva Band made headlines when they announced they would not be participating in the competition. While they may have been able to forgo Friday Night rehearsals, they decided not to perform on Saturday Night as it would result in Sabbath desecration by other Jews. They wouldn't win the competition, but with their performance on the Thursday Night prior, they certainly won the hearts of the entire State of Israel. 

What is our responsibility to Jews who don't observe Shabbat?

It is forbidden to cause a fellow Jew to violate a prohibition, or even assist him in transgressing, as the Torah (Vayikra 19:14) states “…You shall not place a stumbling block before the blind.” 

The Talmud (Avoda Zara 6a-b) provides the example of a Nazir, standing on one side of a riverbed, and another individual standing on the other side of the river. The individual stretches his arm across the river to give the Nazir wine to drink and, according to the Talmud, violates “…You shall not place a stumbling block before the blind.” By stating that the individual stretches his arm across the river, the implication is that the Nazir would not be able to violate his nazirite oath without this individual. The individual is directly responsible for the transgression.

While Rambam (Peirush Ha-Mishna, Shevi’it 5:6) rules that even 'assisting' indirectly in a prohibition that could have been violated by other means is prohibited by the Torah, most authorities assume that merely 'assisting' is only a Rabbinic Prohibition (See, for example, Tosafot to Shabbat 3a, s.v. Baba).

Participating in Eurovision, or even attending, would result directly or indirectly in someone else's Chillul Shabbat. In this case, it would be many individuals.

Responses to Eurovision here in Israel were varied. Some chose to protest violently. Others, a spiritual protest. Special Tefillot gatherings were held, and Chief Rabbi David Lau made a passionate plea to add twenty additional minutes to Shabbat, lighting candles ten minutes earlier than usual and taking leave of Shabbat ten minutes later. Rabbanit Yemima Mizrachi suggested to combat the Chillul Shabbat by enhancing our Shabbat experience through cooking an extra dish, inviting an additional guest, wearing something special for Shabbat, singing more Zemirot, etc.

It is unfortunate that the final competition could not have been held during the week in order to prevent Chillul Shabbat. After all, the State of Israel will officially push off or advance Yom Hazikaron and Yom Ha'atzmaut to prevent Chillul Shabbat, as was the case this year. And in past years, the Chief Rabbinate has recommended Lag Ba'Omer celebrations in Meron be delayed a day when Lag Ba'Omer falls out on Saturday Night, in order to prevent Sabbath desecration by police, IDF, and emergency services securing the roads and preparing the area.

At a time of year when we mourn the loss of the students of Rabbi Akiva who died for not showing respect to one another (Yevamot 62b), shouldn’t we show more care and concern for the spiritual well-being of our fellow Jew?

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