Ultrareligious protest decision opening street to Shabbat traffic

Sign up for Weekday J and get the latest on what's happening in the Jewish Bay Area.

JERUSALEM — Thousands of ultrareligious Jews demonstrated over the weekend to protest a decision by Israel's High Court of Justice allowing a main thoroughfare in Jerusalem to remain open to traffic on the Sabbath.

Saturday's protests passed peacefully, and there were no major clashes with police, unlike in previous demonstrations.

Two cars were damaged by rock-throwers, and some demonstrators overturned garbage cans and threw garbage and soiled diapers at police.

The protests erupted after the high court barred the closure of Bar Ilan Road to Sabbath traffic and called for the formation of a committee to examine the issue.

The presence of Sabbath traffic on Bar Ilan, which cuts through ultrareligious neighborhoods, has sparked a series of often violent demonstrations in recent weeks.

It has become a hot-button issue on both sides of the religious divide, with ultrareligious Jews seeking laws that will respect the Sabbath and religious holidays. Secular Jews view such laws as an infringement on their freedom.

On Saturday, the street was closed to traffic for close to an hour, but not because of the demonstrators.

Police ordered the closure for the unexpected arrival of Public Security Minister Avigdor Kahalani, who rankled local police officials for not coordinating the visit ahead of time.

Kahalani said he made the visit to meet with members of the community in an effort to create tolerance among religious and secular Israelis alike.

Kahalani visited a synagogue and promised to look into the concerns of the ultrareligious community.

When he got into his car, some demonstrators asked him to wait a half hour until the Sabbath ended.

When the minister opted to drive off, demonstrators shouted, "Shabbos, Shabbos," as they do at other motorists driving on the Sabbath.