High Court: Tel Aviv Stores Can Remain Open on Shabbos

View of the Supreme Court in Yerushalayim. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

In yet another blow to shemiras Shabbos in Eretz Yisrael, the High Court upheld a Tel Aviv municipal bylaw permitting 164 stores in the city to remain open on Shabbos, lo aleinu, in a landmark ruling.

The court had ruled similarly in April, but a petition and additional hearing were called for, with the same unfortunate ruling.

The lawsuit, against the Tel Aviv Municipality and Mayor Ron Huldai, was brought in 2014 by the Tel Aviv Grocery Store Association, and demands that the city enforce bylaws against operation of businesses on Shabbos, which the city had stopped doing.

The lawsuit names specific chains, such as the AM:PM supermarket chain, as violating laws that ban businesses from operating inside cities on Shabbos. The plaintiffs claimed that the lack of enforcement by the city harms them because it gives those who remain open on Shabbos a business advantage that those who follow the law do not have. The city seeks to strike down the laws, claiming that it violates Basic Laws on doing business. Most of the members of the Association are in fact not observant, but do not want to work on Shabbos.

Thursday was the last day of Chief Justice Miriam Naor on the bench, and the feeling in the religious community – and among the business owners suing the city – is that the court timed its decision for that day in order to mark it with a “historic” decision.

“By a majority of opinions, it was decided to reject the petition against the opening of the supermarkets on Shabbos,” Naor said in her final ruling. Naor said the previous verdict remains binding.

Naor acknowledged that opening businesses on Shabbos does do damage to the rights of business owners who would prefer not to open on Shabbos, but might be forced to, for reasons of  competition, if other stores will be open. “Every individual should be allowed to shape Shabbos in their own way,” she said.

The response from chareidi MKs, ministers and deputy ministers to this breach in the status quo and expansion of chillul Shabbos was immediate and unequivocal, vowing to introduce legislation that will override the ruling and even give the Knesset the ability to override High Court rulings more broadly, as has also been proposed by the Jewish Home party.

Health Minister Rabbi Yaakov Litzman said that the Court’s ruling is a serious blow to the religious status quo and the Jewish character of the state, the latest in a series of blatant interventions in religious values and Halachah. “There has become some kind of custom of the justices, on their day of retirement, to choose to finish with an antireligious ruling.”

“This is an insensitive attempt by the court to harm the Jewish character of the state, inflicting a moral injustice and trampling the rights of thousands of workers whose livelihood is hurt by this ruling and are prevented from [enjoying] family time, which is a basic right of every person.

“We must [close] the antireligious floodgates which the High Court opened with this ruling. We will fight to fix the injustice in this ruling,” he said.

MK Rabbi Moshe Gafni said that the High Court of Justice is “simply disconnected from the nation.”

As part of the coalition agreement, he said, we will bring the amendment to the law on Sunday, and what the court has violated will be amended.

A new bill proposed by Rabbi Gafni in order to circumvent the decision has been put on the agenda of the Ministerial Committee for Legislation on Sunday. This bill has been signed on by members of UTJ, Shas and Jewish Home.

Interior Minister Rabbi Aryeh Deri (Shas) attacked the Court in the wake of its decision. “I need only to quote what President Rivlin said in his speech at the Knesset this week: ‘The court is not making a revolution but rather a putsch, and this is indeed a real putsch,'” Rabbi Deri said.

Rabbi Deri once again demanded that the authorization to enforce the law against stores that are mechallel Shabbos be transferred to his Ministry.

In his statement, UTJ faction leader Rabbi Menachem Eliezer Mozes said that “I’m not surprised at the court decision, led by Chief Justice Naor, which corresponds to the long-standing agenda of the court to rule against anything related to tradition, religion and Judaism.

“I feel a deep pain and anguish over the degradation of the Shabbos for which Jews devoted their lives throughout our history, and I’m sure that Justice Naor’s ancestors were among them. It’s a shame that this is the symbol of her departure from the court. UTJ will act to amend legislation on the matter,” said Rabbi Mozes.

Deputy Minister Rabbi Meir Porush (UTJ) noted that the judges have once again intervened in matters beyond their purview, and that the Knesset must now act to preserve the status quo.

UTJ MK Rabbi Uri Maklev deplored the decision, saying that “it is time for a law to bypass the High Court, rather than a High Court that bypasses Shabbos.

“The judges are seemingly trying to outdo one another in who can pass more antireligious laws. This ruling doesn’t weaken the Shabbos – it weakens the court.”

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