Following protest, fine lifted from Tel Aviv store punished for closing on Shabbat

Cnaan Liphshiz

(JTA) — Heeding protests, a Tel Aviv real-estate firm backtracked on its sanctioning of a store owner who refused to open on Shabbat.

Sarona Market, which operates the food market at the Sarona compound in eastern Tel Aviv, announced Wednesday that it would not enforce a fine of 3,000 shekels, or $760, that it recently slapped on Ofer Leiferman, 42, for his failure to open his food store on Shabbat, the website reported.

Leiferman, owner of a the local franchise of the Henri’s chain of stores, opened last month following a deal signed between the chain’s owner, Rami Bar Lev, and Sarona Market — a financial enterprise that won a city tender for operating the compound. The contract said the store will open on Saturdays —  the Jewish day of rest of Shabbat — but Leiferman refused to open.

“I’m not a religious person and not one to start a national campaign on Shabbat,” he told Channel 2. “I just ask not to work on Shabbat, in accordance with Israeli law — which supersedes any contract.”

Sarona Market said in a statement that it had some kosher businesses whose contracts allow for closure on Shabbat, but that Henri’s had no such contract. It nonetheless cancelled the fine “out of responsibility to public sentiment,” the statement read.

The fine prompted angry reactions by religious Israelis, including Economy Minister Aryeh Deri.

Shabbat observance in public places is a divisive issue in Israel, where many seculars resent the absence of public transportation and the closure of some commercial establishments due to insistence by observant Jews. Individuals and institutions seeking greater observance of Shabbat, meanwhile, oppose activities that violate it as offensive.

In Jerusalem, the issue is regularly the subject of mass protest rallies by Haredi Jews, which often turn violent.

Israeli municipalities determine the level of commercial and other activity allowed on Shabbat within their borders. But labor laws generally allow employees not to work on Shabbat.

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