The Shabbat wars have returned to Tel Aviv once again, although this time a business is being fined not for opening on Shabbat but for the very opposite course of action.
A branch of the Henris cafe and creperie franchise opened last month in the fashionable Sarona Market mall in Tel Aviv which is dedicated to fine cuisine and the provision of highend food and products.
The branch was opened by Ofer Liperman and his wife who says he invested several hundred thousand shekels in the business. Liperman describes himself as religiously traditional and observant of his Jewish heritage and basic aspects of Jewish life such as kashrut and, in part, the Sabbath as well.
In particular, Liperman does not work on Shabbat and made it clear to franchise founder and owner Rami Bar Lev that he would not be opening the Henris branch on the Sabbath.
Bar Lev, who is also a colonel in the IDF reserves, told The Jerusalem Post that when he negotiated the contract with Gindi Holdings which owns Sarona Market, the contract did clearly state that restaurant should operate on Shabbat, since the project was intended to be open seven days a week.
According to Bar Lev, he stated at the time that some of his franchise holders were observant of the Sabbath and that it was possible the operator of the Sarona Market franchise might be unwilling to open the restaurant on Shabbat.
Bar Lev says that he was told at the time that the contract was standard and arrangements could be made regarding the Sabbath at a later date.
Liperman opened the branch at the end of July, with kashrut supervision from the Tel Aviv Rabbinate. One of the stipulations of rabbinate supervision is that a restaurant is prohibited from opening on Shabbat.
Soon after the first Sabbath on which Liperman did not open the cafe, he received various warnings, including a letter from the lawyers of Gindi Holdings, for not complying with the contract. A fine of more than NIS 3,500 was subsequently issued when Liperman continued to keep the cafe shut on Shabbat, and the fine was automatically debited from the Lipermans’ business account through which they pay their monthly rent for the space in Sarona Market.
Bar Lev turned to the Gindi Holdings management and noted that there are other businesses in Sarona Market which shut on Shabbat and was told that they had received special permission within their contract.
When Bar Lev pointed out that he had told them it was possible the new franchise would want to close for the Sabbath, he was told that the management would consider granting the dispensation to Henris as well but in the meantime to keep the cafe open on Shabbat.
Liperman says there is no way he will work on the Sabbath.
“I am very respectful and proud of our Jewish heritage, we keep a kosher home, I put on tefillin every day, we do travel on Shabbat but I never have and never will work on Shabbat,” he told the Post.
He also added that he was not willing to run the cafe without kashrut supervision.
“I don’t want to start some kind of national war over this issue, Sarona Market is a fantastic place, I don’t have problems with other places being open on Shabbat, but no one can tell me I have to work on Shabbat.”
Sarona Market said in response, “We respect any business that wants to observe the Sabbath,” but that the complex was established “with a vision to provide a unique place for leisure and dining, whose gates will be open seven days a week for the pleasure and enjoyment of the public in all its variety.
“To ensure this for the tens of thousands of visitors to the complex, opening times and days were established in the contracts signed with the business owners. It should be noted that the different businesses in the complex were chosen carefully, and with a delicate balance between kosher businesses that do not operate on Shabbat and those which do operate on Shabbat.”
The Law for Work and Rest Hours prohibits forcing someone to work on Shabbat, while most municipal jurisdictions prohibit commercial activity on Shabbat, but permit businesses providing leisure and entertainment to operate.
According to Mickey Gitzin, director of the religious freedom activist group Israel Be Free, it is illegal for Sarona Market to fine and take money from Henris for not opening on Shabbat, but the company would be within its rights to close down the franchise in the complex on the basis of the contract that was signed.
Gitzin criticized Sarona Market on principle, however, saying that fining Henris constituted a blow to religious freedom.
Senior United Torah Judaism MK Moshe Gafni issued a statement on Wednesday saying that he had asked Attorney- General Yehuda Weinstein to open an investigation into the situation.
“The law in the State of Israel prohibits working on rest days, and prohibits secular coercion, not to mention the public statement these fines make, that the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state allows the punishment of someone who requests the most elemental Jewish concept – to observe the Jewish Sabbath,” said Gafni.