Ultra-Orthodox community preparing to protest new Jerusalem cinema complex

Yes Planet has built the new complex on the major Hebron Road thoroughfare outside the Abu Tor neighborhood in south Jerusalem, and is facing backlash by Haredi organizations.

The Jerusalem Post/August 11, 2015

By Jeremy Sharon

The opening of Yes Planet 16-screen cinema complex in Jerusalem this Thursday is generating increasing opposition from haredi organizations and politicians who wish to prevent the complex from opening on Shabbat as planned.

Yes Planet has built the new complex on the major Hebron Road thoroughfare outside the Abu Tor neighborhood in south Jerusalem.

A haredi organization known as the Rabbinical Committee for Shabbat Issues, comprising rabbis from all sectors of the haredi community, has been leading the opposition to the project. The group has requested that the three Councils of Torah Sages from the hassidic, non-hassidic (or “Lithuanian”) and Sephardi haredi communities deliberate on the issue and provide instructions to the haredi political parties and haredi members of the Jerusalem Municipal Council.

The Rabbinical Committee for Shabbat Issues was established approximately 18 years ago by leading haredi rabbis including the then-leader of the non-hassidic haredi community the late Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv.

The Rabbinical Committee hopes that the leading haredi rabbis on the three councils will instruct Shas, Degel Hatorah and Agudat Yisrael to quit Mayor Nir Barkat’s coalition in the Jerusalem Municipality. The rabbinical councils are expected to discuss the issue next week.

Sources close to Barkat and in the non-haredi coalition parties, however, do not believe that there is any serious danger that this will happen. Unlike in the case of Cinema City, the multi-screen cinema complex located within the National Precinct, the land used for the Yes Planet venture is privately owned and neither the State nor the Municipality has significant say over its use.

In addition, the longstanding status quo in Jerusalem and other cities is that although commercial stores and businesses are supposed to be closed on Shabbat, places for leisure and recreation such as cinemas, movie theaters, restaurants and cafes can be open.

This provides little room for political opposition to Yes Planet remaining open on the holy day.

The Rabbinical Committee, however, includes among its ranks Rabbi Yosef Rosenfeld who represents the radical Eda Haredit communal organization, which has in the past protested vehemently and violently against what the group describes as “mass desecration of the Shabbat” in Jerusalem, including the bitter fight over the Karta parking lot just outside the Old City.

According to Rosenfeld, the head of the Eda Haredit, Rabbi Yitzchok Tuviah Weiss, is aware of the situation and is considering whether or not to instruct his followers to protest against the cinema complex.

The rabbi told The Jerusalem Post that preparations are already underway to conduct such protests and said that he expected a demonstration this coming Shabbat. Rosenfeld noted, however, that any demonstrations would likely not take place outside Yes Planet itself, since it is a considerable distance from the haredi neighborhoods where Eda Haredit’s followers reside.

Instead, protests – should they get the green light – will be staged on the borders of haredi and non-haredi parts of the city, Rosenfeld said. It is also possible that demonstrations will be held on a weekday and not on Shabbat itself.

“We look at Jerusalem as the Holy City and do not consider it from the standpoint of individual neighborhoods alone but of the city in its entirety,” he said. “Jerusalem has inherent holiness and it is unthinkable that Shabbat will be desecrated in this way.”

Asked whether or not the holiness of Jerusalem extended to the new parts of the city without haredi or religious communities, Rosenfeld argued that Jerusalem was the “place of the sanctuary,” a reference to the two ancient Jewish temples that stood on the Temple Mount, and said that this holiness was projected and conferred upon the rest of the city.

Rosenfeld acknowledged that cinemas have been open on the Shabbat in Jerusalem for many years, but said that the size and scale of the 16-screen Yes Planet complex was a change to the status quo that he did not consider acceptable.

He also insisted that the possibility exists that the rabbis of the Councils of Torah Sages will instruct the haredi members of the Jerusalem Municipal Council to resign from the coalition, but said that the Eda will protest the issue regardless of whether that happens or not.

“We will protest because we must demonstrate that Shabbat desecration in Jerusalem pains us,” he said, adding “We will not allow this to pass in quiet.” Rosenfeld said, however, that violence at such protests would not be acceptable.

Hanan Rubin, a member of the Jerusalem Municipal Council for the Hitorerut (“Wake Up”) Jerusalem party, said he believed that there will be little political action by the haredi municipal parties as a result of the opening of Yes Planet, and added that the likelihood of mass haredi protests was also low.

“Jerusalem needs to provide options on Shabbat for all the residents of the city. We understand those who are concerned for the nature of Shabbat in Jerusalem but we also believe that the majority of the haredi community also understands the need to keep the city mixed and diverse.”   

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