Gindi Backs Down on Anti-Shabbos Penalty

Chairman of the Knesset Finance Committee Rabbi Moshe Gafni (UTJ). (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Chairman of the Knesset Finance Committee Rabbi Moshe Gafni (UTJ). (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The Tel Aviv mall owner Gindi backed down on the penalty it sought to impose on one of its tenants for refusing to open on Shabbos, in the wake of the publicity surrounding the incident.

However, while the giant holding company said it would relent on the 3,000-shekel penalty, it said that it would seek legal recourse in view of the fact that the contract with Henry’s and other mall tenants calls for being open on Shabbos. The store’s refusal constitutes breach of contract, they argue.

The store owner, Ofer Lauferman, said that he was not prepared to work on Shabbos. “I am not religious,” he said, “and am not the type to wage a national struggle over Shabbos observance. All that I ask is that I should not be forced to work on Shabbos. There’s a law in this country, and that transcends all contracts.”

Indeed, it was unclear how Gindi could sue him for breach of a contract which itself contravenes the law.

Finance Committee Chairman Rabbi Moshe Gafni (United Torah Judaism) took the opposite approach. After learning of the incident, he asked Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein to open an investigation into Gindi’s “secular coercion” which the law forbids.

Support came from another direction as well on Wednesday, as Yaakov Halperin, the CEO of Halperin Optical, offered to back Henry’s fight to keep Shabbos by paying any penalties imposed by the mall owners, as well as legal fees they might incur.

Meanwhile, north of Tel Aviv, in the coastal city of Herzliya, the municipality’s just-announced plan to run “Shabbos shuttles” — minibuses from outlying neighborhoods to the city’s beaches and shopping center — has provoked a public outcry, Arutz Sheva reported.

The plan was approved Wednesday by the city council despite objections raised by both religious and secular council members.

The shuttle is projected to begin running next April. Seeking to downplay the chillul Shabbos, city officials stressed that it will operate only for a few hours each Shabbos, and will avoid religious neighborhoods.

Amid the ongoing struggle over Shabbos observance, the idea of a two-day weekend — Shabbos and Sunday — may become a reality in Israel after years of discussion, something that could ease the tensions.

Interior Minister Silvan Shalom (Likud) and Economy Minister Arye Deri (Shas) say they are working on a plan to make it happen. Shalom has been a leading advocate for the change for some years.

Such a decision would ultimately require the approval of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. A source close to the prime minister told The Jerusalem Post that a major change in the status quo of this kind would have to be weighed very carefully.

Deri is hopeful that instituting Sunday off would relieve pressure on businesses and their employees to work on Shabbos. Currently, the stores that operate on Shabbos are forcing competitors, particularly smaller ones, to either open on Shabbos as well, or close down altogether. Employers, in turn, are pressuring their employees to give up their day of rest.

The theory is that if people have a day off on Sunday for shopping, they will use that day instead of Shabbos, thereby reducing the incentive for the malls and stores to operate on Shabbos. But no one knows what will happen until it’s tried.

Deri said he met earlier in the week with the owners of Henry’s. Of the contract stipulating chillul Shabbos, Deri said, “It’s illegal, but no one enforces it.”

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