Secular Zionist poet Haim Nachman Bialik once called Shabbat “the most brilliant
creation of the Hebrew spirit,” adding that “anyone who violates it, violates
the nation’s most precious possession.” A group of Tel Aviv shop owners would
surely agree: On Thursday, they said they planned to take their fight to stop
large supermarket chains opening on Saturdays all the way to the Supreme
The group of 23 shop owners petitioned the District Court for
Administrative Affairs back in 2007, arguing that supermarket chains AM:PM, Tiv
Ta’am and City Market – all of which operate central Tel Aviv stores – are
taking customers away from their small businesses by opening on
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 Tel Aviv Municipality should be ordered to
enforce the law.
However, on Wednesday, Tel Aviv District Court Judge
Esther Covo threw out the petition, saying that the issue of opening on Saturday
was a matter “at the heart of political and public controversy” over which the
court “must act with great legal restraint.”
The judge added that the
issue of opening on Saturday was “a controversy that has accompanied up from the
early days of the state, and at its heart is a question of balance between the
state’s Jewish character and the fundamental values that enshrine individual
“In fact, the petitioners ask the court to intervene on a very
difficult dispute in the Israeli public arena, [the question of] what is the
appropriate measure, if any, to limit civil liberties such as freedom from
religion, freedom of conscience and freedom of occupation, in order to realize
religious values,” Covo said.
However, attorney David Shub, who is
representing the 23 grocery store owners, said that the shop owners’ court
battle was unconnected with any religious imperative to observe the
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“Whenever you hear the word ‘Shabbat’ in this context, you think
of haredi Jews, but that’s just not the case here.
The petitioners are
ordinary, hardworking secular Jews who just want to close their stores and rest
on Saturdays,” Shub told The Jerusalem Post, noting with a wry laugh that he
deliberately refrained from mentioning religion in the petition.
care not to write the words Shabbat Hakodesh [“Holy Shabbat”], and I didn’t
quote anything from the Torah,” Shub added.
Shub said that by opening on
Saturdays, large chains like AM:PM were taking customers away from the smaller
stores, who were in turn forced to stay open seven days a week or lose
Small business owners should be protected, so they can enjoy a day
of rest, he added.
“Shabbat is a social thing. It’s a day of rest, when
people can do as they please – they can go to the beach, spend time with their
families. Religion was never the point of the petition,” Shub said. “All we
asked was for the court to compel the Tel Aviv Municipality to comply with the
Shub also slammed the court’s decision that the petitioners must
pay the respondents NIS 75,000 in court costs, saying that it was a
“We really believe that the Supreme Court will overturn the
ruling,” he said.
During the district court hearing, lawyers for the Tel
Aviv Municipality had argued that it enforced Shabbat observance according to
the law and administrative discretion, and was not empowered to use sanctions to
prevent business competition or for religious Shabbat observance.
bylaw regulating working on the day of rest allowed financial sanctions against
businesses, which had been imposed on the businesses named in the petition, the
The attorney-general’s office also filed a response,
although it was not a party to the proceedings, saying that regulating business
activity on the day of rest is at the discretion of each local
Petitioner and campaign leader Kobi Brenner, whose small
Sheinkin Street grocery store is closed on Saturdays so that he can enjoy a day
of rest, also slammed the district court’s decision to throw out the petition
and order the petitioners to pay costs.
“We feel that we haven’t found
any justice in the court, which is forcing us to pay an enormous sum to the
municipality, an amount of money that we will find it hard to find,” Brenner
said, adding that the petitioners will have to ask for donations to meet the
“This astronomical sum only serves to highlight the
minuscule fines of NIS 600 that city hall imposes on businesses that break the
law [by opening on Shabbat],” Brenner added.
“We feel that we’re being
milked for money and they are given a reward.”
Yair Corah, the chairman
of the General Association of Independent Traders, which was also part of the
petition, said that the Tel Aviv Municipality was “behaving irresponsibly” by
not enforcing the law and allowing businesses to operate on
Corah said the Tel Aviv District Court had made a “huge
mistake” by throwing out the petition.
“I believe the Supreme Court will
correct that mistake,” he told the Post, saying he was concerned Saturday
trading was on the increase, and that it would have a detrimental effect on
Israeli small-business owners and on society as a whole.
“It’s not just
big supermarket chains that are open on Shabbat – now other types of stores are
opening too, like fashion chains,” Corah said, adding that this puts pressure on
other small businesses to remain open or lose customers.
municipality wants to allow buses to operate on Saturdays,” Corah added,
referring to a recent vote by the Tel Aviv City Council to ask the
Transportation Ministry’s permission to allow buses to operate on
“We need to observe Shabbat not for religious reasons, but for
practical ones,” Corah added. “Western countries, Christian countries, they all
have a day of rest. Israel needs a day of rest too.”
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