State Set to Respond to Demands for Shabbos Business Openings

An AM/PM convenience store in Tel Aviv. Photo by Mendy Hechtman/Flash90
An AM:PM convenience store in Tel Aviv. (Mendy Hechtman/Flash90)

In the coming weeks an advisory panel that has been researching the matter will make recommendations regarding business activities on Shabbos. The panel’s conclusions will be used to defend the state’s position in four cases currently before the High Court which demand permission to operate businesses on Shabbos.

The petitions challenge the city code of Tel Aviv, which thankfully bans stores from opening on Shabbos. In 2014, former Interior Minister Gideon Sa’ar authorized the suspension of a law pertaining to work hours and rest in several areas of Tel Aviv. Merchants in other areas where Shabbos closure laws are strictly enforced, are challenging the constitutionality of that suspension, or alternatively, insisting that it be expanded to cover the entire city. The government has asked the court to further delay advancing its arguments, while the results of the panel’s work is analyzed.

Nevertheless, when Sa’ar (Likud) authorized the voiding of a municipal bylaw that would have allowed the neighborhood markets and kiosks which have long been violating Shabbos rest laws to continue to do so (though for the first time with municipal approval) he defended his ruling, arguing that those who defy the law are hypocrites who uphold the rule of law only when it suits their interests.

“Anyone who speaks seriously about the rule of law cannot ignore the fact that running businesses on Shabbos is a violation of the law. One cannot support the rule of law only when it’s comfortable, one has to be consistent,” he said.

Furthermore, Sa’ar asked pointedly, “Is the conquest of another sector of the marketplace through an additional day of work the tradition of the Jewish people?”

He warned of a slippery slope of desecration. “If the desire is to make money and to go shopping, where do we draw the line? It will not stop here. We are liable to come to a complete destruction of the day of rest.”

Sa’ar determined that the bylaw “violates the Jewish component, and violates the national and social character of Shabbos, which is an integral component of public life.

“The law violates the delicate balances regarding acceptable commercial activity on Shabbos. The balanced approach is the one that takes into consideration the importance of Shabbos as a national symbol in Israel for the general public, as well as the rights and sensitivities of various sectors. These populations are not only religious, but also traditional and secular people, who wish to have quality of life and maintain a weekly day of rest.”

He also pointed out that the “principle of the weekly day of rest is a fundamental principle in our state. This is the gift of the Jewish people to humanity. Throughout history, many other nations adopted this principle.

“Preserving the character of Shabbos, and its uniqueness, among other ways by reducing commercial activity in the city serves an important interest for the Israeli public in general and the Jewish public in particular in our country,” he noted.

According to sources in the Justice Ministry, the panel’s report will say that the imposition of a suspension of day-of-rest laws in certain areas is legal. The state, according to the panel, enforces the laws on rest in a very determined manner. In 2013, for example, the state collected NIS 2.7 million in fines from businesses that operated illegally on Shabbos.

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