Minister rejects by-law allowing Tel Aviv stores to open on Shabbat

Marcy Oster

JERUSALEM — Israel’s Interior Minister Gideon Sa’ar rejected an amendment to a Tel Aviv municipal by-law that would allow grocery and convenience stores to stay open on the Sabbath and holidays.

The municipality’s City Council approved the amendment in March, pending the approval of the Interior Ministry.

It is illegal in Israel to open retail businesses on the Jewish Sabbath, which begins at sundown on Friday and ends after sunset on Saturday.

Sa’ar said in a statement that he struck down the amendment because it was not explained why it was essential for the stores to remain open on Shabbat rather than meet the public’s needs during the rest of the week.

He also said it harms both Jewish and democratic values in Israel. “It contradicts the democratic aspect in that it creates contempt for the rule of law, a basic principle in any democratic government,” he said. “It contradicts the Jewish aspect in that it harms the national and social notion of the Sabbath, a central facet of the public sphere.”

Sa’ar did, however approve the opening of businesses on Shabbat in the Tel Aviv Port, Jaffa Port and Hatahana D, the renovated Old Train Station complex. Convenience stores in gas stations also may remain open.

Israel’s Supreme Court in June 2013 ordered the Tel Aviv-Jaffa municipality to enforce a by-law that bans its businesses from opening on Saturday.

The high court ruled that the municipality and two large supermarket chains violated the municipal by-law against opening on the Sabbath. The court suggested the city could change the by-law to allow businesses to remain open on Saturday.

The owners of the small shops claimed they were losing customers to the chains that could afford to remain open on Saturday and absorb the modest fines levied for their transgression.

Also on Sunday, a proposed bill to allow public transportation on Shabbat was rejected by the Knesset’s Constitution, Law and Justice Committee. Three government ministers voted in favor, three against and three abstained.

Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, head of the HaTnua party abstained, explaining according to Ynet that “there should be public transportation, but not entirely – the Shabbat is a special day and should be kept as such, for seculars too. Proper and proportionate arrangements need to be made on this matter.”