MK Zohar’s New Bill: Help Shomer Shabbos Athletes and Businesses

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu (L) speaks with MK Miki Zohar during a Likud faction meeting at the Knesset, December 7, 2015. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu (L) speaks with MK Miki Zohar during a Likud faction meeting at the Knesset, December 7. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Likud MK Miki Zohar, author of a bill to close loopholes that allow businesses to operate on Shabbos, has now initiated legislation that would require sports teams to accommodate observant players.

Zohar headed a discussion on this topic, with the Knesset Subcommittee on Sporting Activities Tuesday afternoon. The subcommittee heard testimony from numerous Israelis who complained that they, or their children, had been denied the opportunity to compete in advanced sporting events because they refused to play on Shabbos.

“One of my children is a competitive swimmer who has won numerous awards,” said one of the witnesses. “We are always in a panic about when the next big swim meet will be held, and whether we will have to fight to have the event changed to a weekday. Tests for professional licenses and for university students are never held on Shabbos. Why should sports competitions be any different? We pay taxes like anyone else, and we want to take advantage of the benefits of citizenship like anyone else.”

According to Yossi Sharaby, Director General of the Sports and Culture Ministry: “We have discussed the Shabbos issue with the professional sports organizations and leagues numerous times, and have come to an understanding with them on this. All the organizations claim to be making whatever efforts they can to prevent chillul Shabbos, but of course this issue merits closer supervision. The issue are different in each type of sport, with soccer being the worst offender.”

Zohar said: “In recent years we have reached a point in this country where it is difficult for those who want to keep Shabbos and remain loyal to their beliefs. My goal is to give everyone who wants it, the opportunity to keep Shabbos.”

Earlier this week, the Ministerial Law Committee approved another piece of legislation authored by Zohar, a law that will close those loopholes in the distribution of licenses to operate on Shabbos. The “Weekly Day of Rest Law” will require businesses that claim they need to operate on Shabbos, to get a permit signed by the Economy Minister.

Currently, the laws that require businesses to remain closed on Shabbos apply only within towns and cities, but shopping centers out of town – such as on kibbutzim – are free to operate on Shabbos, and many do. In addition, many of the large chain stores in urban secular strongholds, wiggle their way out of closing on Shabbos by employing non-Jews only, since the current laws on weekly rest do not apply to them. The proposed new law will close both these loopholes.

In addition, the law will ban the practice of shopping centers and malls requiring stores or establishments to open on Shabbos as a condition for renting space. Several months ago, the new Sharona Market in central Tel Aviv made headlines when management demanded that the only kosher restaurant in the burgeoning food market remain open on Shabbos, or lose its lease. After a media furor, the management backed down. Under the new rules, such clauses will be illegal.

“The law is meant to protect and enhance the standing of Shabbos as a national day of rest in Israel,” Zohar said. “The purpose is to emphasize the rights of workers in Israel to their day of rest, and to assist businesses that keep Shabbos to protect themselves from unfair competition. Thus we will protect the rights of all workers in Israel. Shabbos is an important element in the identity of Israel as a Jewish state and it must be strengthened, in order to ensure that the traditional status quo is preserved.”