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Eurovision Song Contest 2019 takes place around Shabbat — how will this work in Tel Aviv?

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Eurovision Song Contest 2019 takes place around Shabbat — how will this work in Tel Aviv?
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REUTERS/Corinna Kern
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Shabbat, the Jewish day of rest, takes place from a few minutes before sunset on Friday until the appearance of three stars in the sky on Saturday night.

Followers of the religion cannot perform a series of activities in this time ranging from sewing and hunting animals to playing an instrument and using electrical appliances.

How might Shabbat affect the organisation of the Eurovision Song Contest — which takes place in Tel Aviv on Saturday, May 18, and starts at 10 pm local time — and the tourists who will travel to Israel to watch it live?

A Shabbat-friendly microphone

One of the favourite groups to represent Israel in this year's competition decided to quit in February due to an obligation to take part in a rehearsal during Shabbat.

The group in question, "Shalva Band", consists of eight adults with various disabilities, including Down syndrome and autism.

There were several unsuccessful attempts to keep them in the contest including an online petition, which garnered over 10,000 signatures, asking the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) to make an exception so that they could observe Shabbat and compete in the final. EBU did not budge and would not make a concession.

Israeli Eurovision organisers then tried to get hold of a microphone and instruments that would allow them to compete without violating the rules in the Torah. A request for the equipment was made to the Tzomet Institute — a company that has been producing all kinds of objects since 1976, which have the blessing of rabbis to be used during the Sabbath.

Located in the Israeli settlement of Alon Shvut in the West Bank, the institute works with both scientists and rabbis to create everything from medical devices to ballpoint pens that can be operated without human intervention.

"In Jewish law, what counts most is not the result but the path you take to achieve it," they explain in a video report on their website.

In fact, "Shabbat microphones", which don't use electricity, are already listed in the institute's catalogue where it explains how they respect what is written in the Torah: "The system uses only transistors, without any glowing (or "burning") elements at all. No electric current is ever manually turned on. It is turned on by a Shabbat timer, and once it is on the current flows continuously in the system."

However, the rabbis at Tzomet rejected Eurovision's request for a Shabbat microphone because they considered that it would end up legitimising a desecration of the Sabbath, according to Israeli media.

Advantages for Eurovision fans

The fact that most public transport is not available during Shabbat could be beneficial for Eurovision fans. Tel Aviv city council has announced that they will provide free buses between the city centre and the venue, located in Charles Clore Park.

In addition, a larger number of shared taxis, known as "sherut", are scheduled to be in circulation.

It may also be an occasion for Eurovision tourists to look beyond the festival and discover how families in Tel Aviv observe the religious day, by attending a dinner at one of their houses on Friday, May 17.

"The Welcoming Shabbat initiative is a way of connecting thousands of tourists with Tel Aviv families to show them the festive atmosphere on the eve of the Sabbath in Israel," Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai told local media.

"By the way, I told my wife to reserve the date so we will be cooking too."