Ha’aretz has a story about Kiryat Gat’s only movie theater, which was closed after 18 months of operation, in part due to a Chabad-led haredi boycott of the shopping mall where the theater is located. The issue? The mall and the theater were open on Shabbat.
The secular population is up in arms. The haredim are celebrating their victory. But what will be the result?
More and more secular people will move to Beer Sheva or other cities, Kiryat Gat will become a haredi enclave, and the population of Israel will be further divided.
One of the main complaints raised by the secular population is youth boredom and violence caused in part by the lack of movies and the like on Shabbat. The city, which has a religious mayor and deputy mayor, has apparently not addressed this concern. While I support non-violent protest – including the mall boycott – I do not support the abandonment of the secular population and its needs. That haredim – Chabad included – have not addressed those needs speaks volumes about their true intentions.
Programs that conform to Shabbat laws but that are not religious in nature can be set up by the municipality. Many sports and games can be played as well – although all this may require ignoring the haredi views on these specific halakhot and relying on Modern Orthodox views instead. This is most likely the reason why these programs do not exist.
This should never have been a religious v. secular issue. There are secular people who support Shabbat laws and who encourage businesses to close on Shabbat. And there are religious people who argue that the state should not be involved in any aspects of religion, including enforcement of Shabbat laws. But the haredim rushed to make this exactly that, in order to strengthen their political base at the expense of national unity.
In the long run, losing the nuances of this debate hurts everybody, haredim included. But haredi leaders do not understand that.