Clashes and tensions between religious and secular are growing

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JERUSALEM — For the second weekend in a row, Jerusalem's Bar Ilan Street was the site of religious-secular clashes over whether to keep the road open on Shabbat.

Thousands of haredim, or ultra-religious Jews, converged on the street Saturday night.

They confronted hundreds of protesters participating in a demonstration organized by the secularist Meretz Party and other groups.

Both religious and secular groups view the Sabbath closures as indicative of whether life in Jerusalem — and perhaps someday in the whole of the Jewish state — will be governed by religious law.

The continuing clashes occurred as the High Court of Justice is reaching a decision on the closing of the street.

Large numbers of police kept the two groups separated Saturday in an effort to prevent serious violence from breaking out.

Public Security Minister Avigdor Kahalani, who visited the site to assess the situation, was booed by the haredim and did not get out of his car. The situation escalated when the haredim threw rocks at passing cars. Jerusalem Police Chief Aryeh Amit reportedly said that he, too, was hit with stones.

Police used water cannons and officers on horseback to control the crowds of haredim.

The scene was a repeat of a similar confrontation that took place the previous weekend.

Knesset member Avraham Ravitz, who had termed the July 13 police treatment of the haredim a "pogrom" and had called for Amit's dismissal, was at the scene Saturday night.

Ravitz, a member of the ultra-religious United Torah Judaism Party, fell ill during the latest clashes and was admitted to a local hospital for observation.

Police charged that haredim threw stones at cars traveling along the street and also spread trash and nails on the road. Two cars were damaged and two haredim detained.

Bar Ilan Street, which cuts through ultra-religious neighborhoods of Jerusalem, has long been a flashpoint for violent demonstrations.

The battle over the street resurfaced earlier this month when Transport Minister Yitzhak Levy, a member of the National Religious Party, decided that it should be closed during prayers on the Sabbath and on religious holidays.

Secular groups protested, concerned that the directive would in effect permanently close the street to traffic on the Sabbath and holidays, and that it would set a precedent for closing other streets in the capital in deference to religious observances.

The High Court of Justice subsequently ruled on a petition submitted by left-wing legislators, who cited religious coercion.

The court, which temporarily blocked Levy's order and gave the government 15 days to explain why the street should not remain open, is expected to issue its ruling soon.