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Proposal Would Divide City Into Religious, Secular Areas

June 4, 1991

JERUSALEM (AP) _ Jerusalem was so dull, an old joke goes, that a resident’s idea of a night out was dinner, dancing and home in time to catch the 9 o’clock television news.

Things have livened up in the last three years, however. Rabbis complain that the Friday night Sabbath is being violated, and a city councilman has a formula for keeping the peace: create religious zones in the city of 525,000 people.

Under Emanuel Zeisman’s plan, the Sabbath would be strictly observed in the overwhelmingly Orthodox northern and southwestern areas, while movie houses, restaurants and discotheques could open in the secular central districts.

East Jerusalem, the Arab sector, would not be affected.

Jerusalem, Israel’s largest city, always has been considered staid in comparison with Tel Aviv, which has far fewer Orthodox residents.

Most Israelis work a six-day week. Friday is the only night they can party into the wee hours and rest the next day.

Because of Sabbath restrictions, many residents of Jerusalem descend from their mountain city to coastal Tel Aviv 50 miles to the northwest, where they can dance all night and attend midnight movies.

More than three years ago, many people began defying Jerusalem’s Orthodox religious establishment. The city’s night life picked up and brought on the so-called Sabbath Wars of summer 1987.

Ultra-Orthodox Jews held demonstrations, generally directed at movie theaters that opened on Friday night. They blocked major roads and streets to stop people from driving on the Sabbath.

Police used tear gas on the protesters. Secular Jews held counterprotests.

The sides finally agreed to allow some places in secular districts to open Friday nights.

That lasted until Rabbi Menachem Porush, a fierce defender of the Sabbath, became deputy labor minister in the national government. He ordered inspectors to fine establishments that operated on Friday nights, and asked the courts to close them.

″Porush is an ultra-Orthodox and he has a personal ambition to shut down everything on the Sabbath,″ said ministry spokesman Zvi Rosen.

Mayor Teddy Kollek’s political faction, One Jerusalem, proposed marking off secular and religious zones. The city council is to vote on the plan June 9.

″We will try very hard to enable everyone in his neighborhood to live according to his conscience and choice,″ Kollek said. ″We will not let one control the other.″

City Councilman Shmuel Meir of the National Religious Party, Kollek’s coalition partner, objects to the idea on grounds it would ″discriminate against the religious in mixed neighborhoods.″ His party represents Orthodox moderates, many of whom live in secular areas.

Ultra-Orthodox parties have not spoken up, but are not expected to oppose the plan because it would guarantee observance of the Sabbath in their neighborhoods.

″This map is open to negotiation,″ said councilman Zeisman, author of the proposal.

Dividing Jerusalem in any manner is an emotional issue, and many Israelis resist it instinctively. The city was partitioned for 19 years until Israel captured the Arab sector in the 1967 Middle East war.

Elisha Peleg, a secular councilman who belongs to the conservative Likud faction, said he believes restaurants and bars should be allowed to open on the Sabbath, but is against making laws about it.

″Today, they’ll divide Jerusalem up into religious and secular areas; tomorrow they’ll divide it into Jewish and Arab areas,″ he said.

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