Jerusalem Court Rules Public Swimming Pool May Open on Shabbat, Subject to Conditions

The pool in the Har Homa neighborhood will be open on the Sabbath for the next two years, during which ‘the extent of harm to the Shabbat atmosphere can be assessed,' but no food will be sold and no organized activities will be conducted

Yael Freidson
Yael Freidson
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The Har Homa neighborhood swimming pool in Jerusalem.
The Har Homa neighborhood swimming pool in Jerusalem.Credit: Emil Salman
Yael Freidson
Yael Freidson

The Jerusalem District Court ruled on Monday that a new public swimming pool in the city’s Har Homa neighborhood may open on Shabbat for a two-year period pilot period, after which the court will reexamine the case and “‘the extent of its harm to the Shabbat atmosphere.”

The ruling came in response to a lawsuit filed by Deputy Mayor Yosef Havilio and a group of other residents of the neighborhood against a decision by the neighborhood's community administration – a uniquely Jerusalem entity that is run by the municipality and the Israel Association of Community Centers. It's administered through a board with representation from the municipality and residents of the neighborhood. The plaintiffs in the suit asked for a ruling requiring the community administration to abide by the prevailing status quo in the city, which permits swimming pools to be open on the Sabbath.

The court ruled that the Har Homa pool would be open for swimming only on Shabbat. Other functions, including group activities, the sale of food and drink and the use of the public address system, will not be permitted on Shabbat.

In response to the community administration’s concerns about harm to the character of the neighborhood on the Sabbath, District Court Judge Miriam Ilany wrote, if “the peace and quiet of the neighborhood is disturbed by vehicles and buses from outside the neighborhood, even non-religious residents may prefer for the pool be closed on Shabbat. In the end, Shabbat is a day of rest for all of us, and usually, even those who do not observe Shabbat according to Jewish religious law, enjoy the tranquility peace that Shabbat creates in the public domain."

The judge wrote that she was “impressed by sincerity” of Shlomo Golbari, the Har Homa community administration chairman, who expressed concern about serious harm that the opening on the Shabbat would cause to the Shabbat atmosphere in the area. And she said that she said "absolutely rejects Attorney Havilio efforts to accuse [Golbari] of intending to exclude the neighborhood’s secular residents from Jerusalem."

But the judge concluded that demands by the neighborhood’s Sabbath-observant residents failed to strike a proper balance among the competing interests represented among residents of the neighborhood.

When construction of the 40-million-shekel ($11.9 million) facility was completed, the Jerusalem municipality turned over its management to the local community administration, as is the case with other public neighborhood swimming pools in the city that are open on Shabbat. But last July, the Har Homa community administration decided not to open the pool on Shabbat.

An aerial view of the Har Homa pool and vicinity.Credit: Emil Salman

With the exception of overwhelmingly ultra-Orthodox areas, neighborhood pools are open on Shabbat. According to the Central Bureau of Statistics, some 245,000 people live in Har Homa and they include roughly equal numbers of secular, religious and ultra-Orthodox residents.

Havilio lauded the court's decision, saying that it represents “an important victory in the battle over Israel's capital's character.” He added that “Jerusalem’s liberal public won’t bow its head and won’t allow itself to be a punching bag" of the ultra-Orthodox and fervently observant religious Zionist public.

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