'TA must enforce Shabbat supermarket closings'

Court says city must up penalty on chains open Saturdays, current fine for opening on Shabbat is Nis 660 per week.

June 25, 2013 17:39
2 minute read.
A man shops in a supermarket

Man shopping in supermarket 300. (photo credit: REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch)

The Supreme Court on Tuesday ruled that the Tel Aviv Municipality must impose stronger penalties on businesses that operate on Shabbat, which will allow secular owners of small shops to take the day off.

The ruling called on the municipality to enforce the closing of the large, popular supermarket chains Tiv Ta’am and AM:PM on Saturdays, noting that the current fine of NIS 660 per week imposed on the businesses does not achieve the objective of the law regarding business opening and closing times.

Secular owners of small grocery stores say they lose customers to the large chains, and are entitled to a day of rest observed by all according to law without losing business.

The court emphasized that it was not taking a side in the debate over the place of religion in Israel, only enforcing the law as legislated.

Previously, the petitioners had noted that they were secular and were not seeking to observe Shabbat according to Jewish law, only to have at least one day off.

The municipality has 60 days to decide how to enforce the ruling.

The Supreme Court on Tuesday overturned a ruling by the Tel Aviv District Court, which, sitting as an administrative court, threw out a petition by small supermarket owners regarding the large stores’ operations in February 2012.

The petitioners argue that by opening on Saturdays, the supermarkets are violating the provisions of the Business Licensing Law (1968) and its associated regulations, specifically the Hours of Work and Rest Law (1951) and a 1980 bylaw of the Tel Aviv Municipality regarding business opening and closing times, and that the municipality should be ordered to enforce the law.

The municipality responded on Tuesday, saying that “Tel Aviv-Jaffa will continue to be a free city. We will study the court ruling and find a solution that will balance the Shabbat rest and the freedom that the city has allowed until now.”

MK Nissan Slomiansky (Bayit Yehudi), chairman of the Knesset Finance Committee, praised the court’s ruling for “strengthening the foundational value of keeping Shabbat, a value that has accompanied the Jewish people from the dawn of its existence.”

Enforcement of the law will allow religious shop owners to compete more fairly with their secular counterparts, he said.

MK Tzipi Hotovely (Likud) expressed similar sentiments.

“The State of Israel is a Jewish state and it’s impossible to have a situation in which the free market tramples the livelihood of those who observe Shabbat,” she said.

MK Boaz Toporovsky (Yesh Atid) disagreed with the ruling on the basis that Tel Aviv is a liberal city, and therefore shop owners should be allowed to keep their stores open at any hour on any day.

However, he said he understood the ruling because under the present circumstances small business owners are harmed.

“I call on the Tel Aviv Municipality to stop avoiding truly addressing the issue of opening businesses on Shabbat,” said Toporovsky. “The Yesh Atid party supports small businesses, freedom from religion and freedom for religion, and therefore I think it’s possible to open businesses on Shabbat in secular areas.”

Ben Hartman and Rachel Marder contributed to this report.

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