MONTREAL — Three days before the YM-YWHA Ben Weider Jewish Community Centre opened its fitness facilities for the first time on Shabbat, its administration and rabbinical representatives reached an accord intended to meet the rabbis’ demand that violation of Jewish precepts be minimized.
The rabbis, however, continue to maintain that they’re opposed to Shabbat operations.
The Y agreed not to make available its cardiovascular training equipment, which runs on electricity, during Shabbat, opening only its gyms, pool and weight room as of last Saturday, Oct. 31.
The gyms and weight room were to open from 7:30 a.m., an apparent concession won by the Y, which had originally announced in August that those facilities would be open only from 1 p.m. The pool, however, is “initially” opening only from 1 p.m.
All facilities close at 10 p.m.
The Y and the rabbis also agreed to work together to develop Jewish programming. For the present time, the Y is not offering any organized activities on Shabbat, other than the two synagogues that have held services in the building for years.
“As a result of lengthy discussions with rabbis and consultation with a broad range of interested parties, we have arrived at a common understanding that makes the [Y] more accessible to our community while also enhancing our capacity to offer a broad spectrum of Jewish learning opportunities on Shabbat and throughout the week,” the Y said in a press release.
The Y said the Jewish programming is to be implemented soon.
“This collaboration with our rabbis on Jewish programming is a clear indication of our community’s unique and cohesive nature,” the Y also stated.
The accord was reached between a delegation of rabbis who lead modern or mainstream Orthodox congregations.
The Montreal Board of Rabbis, which describes itself as representing “the cross-section of religious movements” within the Montreal Jewish community, simultaneously issued its own statement.
It continues to object to the Y’s opening on Shabbat, but said it welcomes “the dialogue that has begun” with the Y regarding the issue of Shabbat opening. The board does not explicitly endorse the trade-off between the rabbinical representatives and the Y on the terms of Shabbat operations, but makes note of the agreement to keep electrically controlled exercise equipment closed
“The dialogue between rabbis and the [Y’s] leadership preserves the unity of the Montreal Jewish community, promotes respect for Shabbat, and facilitates a partnership for enhanced Jewish programming at the [Y],” the board stated.
The board is advising all Montreal Jews to consult with their own rabbi regarding the details of Shabbat observance.
It describes the series of meetings in recent weeks between rabbis and members of the Y board of directors, facilitated by Federation CJA, as “productive.”
“This engagement reflects a mutual desire to work toward ensuring that the [Y’s] programming on Shabbat accords respect to the central Jewish value of Shabbat,” it reads.
An ad hoc committee of rabbis, Y board members and others is to be formed to address any issues related to Shabbat opening that come up, as well as develop Jewish programming.
The board’s president is Rabbi Adam Scheier of the Orthodox congregation Shaar Hashomayim, who has taken part in the discussions with the Y.
The Rabbinical Council of Canada, Montreal section, an association of some 35 Orthodox synagogues and institutions in the city, also continues to object to the Y’s decision to open on Shabbat.
The RCC, however, will work with the Y in developing Jewish programming, it said in a statement.
“The RCC commends the individual rabbis who have engaged the [Y’s] leadership in discussion to respect and minimize the extent of chillul Shabbos [desecration of Shabbat]. The RCC also recognizes the Y’s effort in taking a step forward by keeping the cardio centre, with its electrical equipment, closed on Shabbat,” it stated.
The RCC also approves of the Y’s keeping its registration desk and restaurant, which was part of the resolution passed by the Y’s boards of directors and trustees in August, as well as assurances it has received that no recorded music will be played and that no Jewish employee will be required to work on Shabbat.