Written by Yair Berlin, Eitan Yarden, Aviad Houminer and Ariel Finkelstain
The idea of fixing another official day of rest in the State of Israeli has come up on numerous occasions in the course of public debate, as well as in the Knesset, since the year 2000. Traditionally speaking, those advocating an additional official day of rest for the Israeli economy propose Sunday. The most serious proposal to be submitted thus far suggested that most of Sunday’s work hours be made up on Friday, which would, in turn, become a part-time work day, while the remaining hours would be made up by adding half an hour to each work day, Monday through Thursday. Those in favor of the move made the following claims: Such a move would strengthen the Israeli economy by making it compatible with Western economies around the world in terms of rest and work days; it would also strengthen the various fields of culture, sports and tourism and render numerous solutions – aimed at settling the religious status of the Sabbath – feasible.
The writers of this position paper believe that the claims made in favor of the new national work schedule and its ability to promote new regulation with regards to the status of the Sabbath are exaggerated. It is possible, though, that as part of an overall arrangement regarding the status of the Sabbath, such a proposal might take the edge off some of the more heated points of dispute; however, a broader view of the Sabbath issue suggests that the subject proposal should be considered as no more than a minor tool in this regard. It is not an essential component. The central focal point in any arrangement settling the official status of the Sabbath must be one that offers solutions from within the current Sabbath framework with adjustments to make it more amenable to all levant parties.
As to the claims of economic benefit from such a step, an inter-ministerial committee which examined the proposed change, headed by Israel’s National Economic Council, pointed to numerous negative economic consequences. It was the committee’s opinion that the main disadvantage of the proposal lies in the fact that by turning Friday into a short work day, and extending work hours on other weekdays, productivity will be reduced, resulting in a lower GDP and ultimately in less money for every citizen. For this reason, all the central economic bodies in Israel have objected to the proposal, claiming that it would harm Israel’s economy. Some other significant objections were made claiming the move was unfeasible due to the heavy traffic congestion that would result from the partial work day on Fridays, and also because significant entities like the IDF and parts of the education system would not fit in with the new work schedule, thus making it even less feasible. The Moslem and Druze communities, comprising about 20% of Israel’s population, have also voiced their objection to the move, which would turn Friday – regarded by them as a sacred day – into a an official, albeit part-time, work day. Although the committee agreed that the move would be advantageous to sports and cultural activities in light of the numerous disadvantages. It decided to reject the proposal.
Two different public opinion polls concerning this matter show that about 50% of the public supports the proposal, while 43-44% oppose it, even if it entailed a reduction in work hours. Among the supporters, many said that if the move would harm their personal finances in any way, they would oppose it.
In light of the above, this position paper proposes a change of course in the public debate. We advocate making Friday a full day of rest, thus creating a long weekend, beginning Thursday night and ending Sunday morning. We believe that most of the advantages to sports and culture resulting from a day off on Sunday, can also be achieved by means of this proposal, with a special focus on integrating religiously observant athletes in sports competitions.
Our proposal also fits in nicely with the recommendation of the Dovrat Committee to cancel school studies on Friday, resulting in a 5 day school week which is common in most Western countries. This would also save large sums of money. The proposition to cancel school studies on Friday has also received the support of parents’ unions, which have long advocated contiguity brtween the school and work weeks. An additional advantage, is that Friday, a sacred day for Moslems and Druze, also becomes a national day of rest. The very fact that the State will recognize Friday as an official day of rest will serve to strengthen ties between these groups and the State, and might even strengthen the integration of these groups into the labor market. In contrast to the proposal promoting Sunday as the official day of rest which would be very costly, declaring Friday as an official day of rest involves minor costs so that the change is more feasible.
Furthermore, in the appendix to this position paper there is a proposition for employers and employees to reduce the work hours on Thursday by two, while extending the other work days by a half hour, thus enhancing the quality of the Israeli Hamshoosh – an extended weekend beginning Thursday afternoon, including Friday and Saturday as official days of rest.