Haredi members of the Knesset are upset over railway maintenance work being performed on Shabbat.
(photo credit: ISRAEL RAILWAYS)
As the government picks up its efforts to pass the “grocery stores bill” – which will allow Interior Minister Arye Deri to block municipal bylaws allowing shops to open on Shabbat – several cities are seeking to hurry through such bylaws before the legislation becomes law.
The bill was approved in a first reading earlier this month, and Deri said that the legislation will be brought for its final readings next week.
On Monday, the Rishon Lezion City Council approved a bylaw allowing grocery stores and kiosks to open on Shabbat.
The city council in Givatayim was scheduled to vote on a similar bill but was prevented from doing so by an order from the High Court of Justice following a petition by Bayit Yehudi and Likud members of the council.
Holon and Ramat Gan are considering legislating their own bylaws on this issue.
Speaking on Army Radio on Monday morning, Deri said however that the new bylaws would not help any city approving them, since as interior minister he has the authority to block any municipal bylaw.
“All of these laws which you’re seeing now under headlines such as ‘Race against time’ – they’re useless,” he said.
The minister said that the law would continue to allow recreational and leisure activities and businesses to operate, but that allowing grocery stores to open would lead to increased commercial activity on Shabbat of all kinds.
“I am not willing under any circumstances [to allow] Shabbat, the day of rest in the State of Israel, to become like any other week day.”
The grocery stores law, if passed, would give the interior minister the authority to block bylaws passed by municipal authorities that allow grocery stores, mini-markets and other businesses to open on Shabbat, apart from Tel Aviv which has already passed such a bylaw and put it into effect.
Tel Aviv passed its bylaw in 2014, but a string of interior ministers declined to authorize it, as is required for all bylaws, until the High Court forced the government into finally approving it in October.
Several years ago, a group of small businesses successfully sued the Tel Aviv Municipality for allowing grocery stores and kiosks to open on Shabbat in contravention of municipal bylaws, which are common throughout cities across the country.
Tel Aviv then amended this bylaw, leading to the political struggle unfolding at present.
The grocery store bill is one of the key elements of a deal between United Torah Judaism and Shas agreed upon at the end of November to keep the Haredi parties in the coalition, following the crisis over maintenance and construction work on Shabbat which led UTJ chairman Ya’acov Litzman to resign as health minister.
Litzman threatened that if this bill and the Shabbat construction permits bill did not pass on Monday night, then UTJ might well take further action against the government.
Coalition partner Yisrael Beytenu however has taken a firm stance against the grocery store bill, a position reiterated by party chairman and Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman on Tuesday, who applauded the various cities that are seeking to pass bylaws keeping grocery stores open on Shabbat.
“Givatayim, Rishon Lezion, Herzliya, Holon, Ramat Gan and other cities are right,” wrote Liberman on Facebook.
“Activities in the public space on Shabbat is an issue for local government alone... Yes to tradition, yes to Jewish values, no to religious coercion.”
Yisrael Beytenu MKs voted against the bill in the first reading and are threatening to do so again in the second and third (final) readings being scheduled for next week.