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Kibbutz leaders reacted angrily on Wednesday to a National Labor Court decision ordering a lower court to hear a lawsuit filed by the state against a kibbutz operating two stores on Shabbat.
"We are amazed by the fact that the court took upon itself the power to determine 'Who is a Jew,'" the heads of the United Kibbutz Movement, Gavri Bargil and Ze'ev Shor, were quoted as saying. "Our Jewishness and our way of life are secular and will not be determined by the incomprehensible criteria of whether or not we work on Shabbat."
The two also charged that the decision "damages Israel's status as a freedom-granting state."
The state originally filed the suit against Kibbutz Tzora, near Beit Shemesh, for operating two kibbutz-owned stores on the premises in August 1997.
Retired Deputy National Labor Court President Elisheva Barak-Ososkin rejected an earlier decision by the Jerusalem District Labor Court to close the case without hearing the state's arguments on the grounds that the state had not presented cause for convicting the kibbutz or those of its members who had operated the store on Shabbat.
"The prohibitions in Articles 9(a) and (b) [of the Hours of Work and Rest Law] were violated," wrote Barak-Ososkin. "The provisions of the law were designed to impose criminal responsibility on the business owners themselves, even if they did not force salaried workers to work on Shabbat." Barak-Ososkin ordered the district court to take the case back and hear the charges raised by the state against the kibbutz and its employees.
Judge Amiram Rabinowitz, who endorsed the decision, invoked the biblical prophets and the secular founders of the Zionist movement to justify prohibiting work on Shabbat. For example, he quoted the essayist Ahad Ha'am, who wrote: "There is no need to be a Zionist or to punctiliously observe religious commands (mitzvot) to recognize the value of Shabbatâ€¦Whoever feels in his heart a true connection to the life of the nation throughout the generations cannot picture the Jewish people without their Shabbat queen."
He quoted the poet Haim Nahman Bialik as writing, "The Shabbat is the most brilliant creation of the Hebrew spirit, and anyone who violates it, violates the nation's most precious possession."
According to Rabinowitz, Labor-Zionist leader Berl Katzenelson wrote: "For me, the Shabbat is one of the pillars of Hebrew culture and the first social achievement of the working man in human history." Katzenelson's successors apparently do not agree.