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Biking on Yom Kippur in Tel Aviv

Judaism’s wheel has many spokes

by
Adam Chandler
September 04, 2012
Tomer Applebaum (Haaretz)
Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai Rides a Rental BikeTomer Applebaum (Haaretz)
Tomer Applebaum (Haaretz)
Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai Rides a Rental BikeTomer Applebaum (Haaretz)

With the High Holidays fast approaching, an interesting conundrum has emerged in the unrepentantly (or perhaps just largely) secular city of Tel Aviv. Like many cities, Tel Aviv has a bike rental program that allows would-be cyclists to rent and ride across town as they see fit. As in most places, it’s a quick, convenient, environmentally-conscious way to travel around a city. The best part of all–more bikes means less Israeli drivers, which anyone visitor to Israel can attest makes the world a safer place.

Enter the quandary of what to do on Yom Kippur in the Jewish State. According to reports, Israel Katz, the Israeli transportation minister, is threatening to pull the plug on funding for the rental program if Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai allows riders to use the service on Yom Kippur thereby “infringing on the holiest day for the Jews.”

The issue itself has seemingly resolved itself. There is a holiday plan in place where bikes will be rented before the holiday and can be returned without an extra fee. Also the funding for the program apparently comes from the municipality and not the transportation ministry.

But as a sometimes biker, I thought the greater question of biking on Yom Kippur was interesting one. Some angles (of many) for consideration: In a more secular city, is it offensive to allow city-sanctioned cycling on a holiday like Yom Kippur? Does the city owe access to its non-Jewish residents, visitors, or tourists? If biking around the city on Yom Kippur has become a ritual–which many say it has because of the lack of cars–is it worth denying those without bikes the means to rent a bike (regardless of whether it charges them or not)?

Commenters, as always, please educate me.

Adam Chandler was previously a staff writer at Tablet. His work has appeared in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Atlantic, Slate, Esquire, New York, and elsewhere. He tweets @allmychandler.

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