Although it was approved by the government for legislation, which means that all coalition members are supposed to support it, MK Miki Zohar (Likud) will not present his bill to close loopholes in Israel’s Day of Rest Law on Wednesday, as had been scheduled. The delay, sources in the Likud said, comes in the wake of opposition to the law expressed by MKs in Kulanu, the party of Finance Minister Moshe Kachlon.
The government has not imposed coalition discipline on its support, which means that MKs are free to vote for it or turn it down. On Tuesday, Zohar held an open forum on the law, and numerous Kulanu MKs announced that they would vote against it if it came up for a vote on Wednesday. Numerous MKs accused Zohar of promoting “religious coercion,” although from his point of view, Zohar said, the law was a social one, not a religious one.
Speaking to Zohar on Wednesday, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu asked him to work out an arrangement with coalition members who oppose the bill. “I respect the Prime Minister’s request and will postpone bringing this bill up for a vote,” Zohar said. “This is a complicated law and a complicated issue that will have an important impact on all Israelis.
“For me the law is a social one, and it is clear to me after this discussion that we live in a complicated society,” Zohar said. “No one can suspect me personally of being observant, so obviously that is not the reason I am advancing this law. The response I am getting from many secular people indicates to me that they have a lot of anger about observance and religion, but I am not put off by that. However, I am taking into account everything that is being said here and will take them all into consideration,” he added.
Although Shabbos is an official day of public rest in Israel, there are too many loopholes that allow businesses to operate on the holy day – and in some cases, force those who prefer to close their establishments on Shabbos to open their stores or offices. Zohar’s law aims to put an end to that through legislative changes to the Weekly Day of Rest Law.
Currently, laws that require businesses to remain closed on Shabbos apply only within towns and cities; shopping centers out of town – such as on kibbutzim – are free to operate on Shabbos, and many, unfortunately, do. In addition, many of the large chain stores open on Shabbos, employing non-Jews only, since the laws on weekly rest do not apply to them.
Even inside large cities, numerous businesses have been opening on Shabbos, using the same excuse, creating a major problem for the many storekeepers who, although not necessarily fully observant, prefer to have Shabbos off to spend with family. Under Zohar’s law, many of the loopholes will be closed, as any business anywhere in Israel – in or out of town, employing Jews or non-Jews – will have to first get a permit signed by the Economy Minister.
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 Sarona Market in central Tel Aviv made headlines when management required the only kosher restaurant in the burgeoning food market to remain open on Shabbos, or lose its lease. After a media furor, management backed down. Under the new rules, such clauses will be outlawed.
“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.