Shefa Shuk boycott continues, despite Shabbat-observant suitors

Shefa Shuk came under fire from haredim because the company's owner, Dudi Weissman, also owns a food market chain, which is open seven days a week.

Shefa Shuk 88 224 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Shefa Shuk 88 224
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
The Shefa Shuk supermarket branches in Jerusalem's religious neighborhoods remain relatively empty months after a committee of haredi rabbis instituted a herem, or boycott, on the chain. "It used to be a mob," Mordechai Abuhatzera said while shopping at the Rehov Shamgar branch with his grandson on Tuesday. "It's been dead since then." Shefa Shuk came under fire from haredim earlier this year because the company's owner, Dudi Weissman, also owns the Tel Aviv-based AM:PM food market chain, which is open seven days a week. Because those locations stay open all week, the Committee for the Sanctity of Shabbat said religious shoppers indirectly violate Shabbat by shopping there. It looks like Weissman won't be getting kosher certification to sell off Shefa Shuk even if the new owners don't operate on Shabbat, according to Rabbi Yitzhak Goldknop, secretary of the committee. Even though there are several parties who don't operate on Shabbat who are interested in buying Shefa Shuk branches, haredi leaders said they would continue to boycott the stores. Only a few customers roamed the lengthy aisles at the Rehov Shamgar Shefa Shuk on Tuesday. The floors were spotless and the checkout lines were empty. A few of the shoppers were haredi, but most were secular or modern Orthodox. "I buy with or without a herem because it's pleasant to shop here," said Rivkah Grees, adding that one of her friends was observing the boycott and shopped all around the capital to avoid the forbidden food emporium. No deal has been finalized to sell Shefa Shuk because the potential buyers will not commit without approval from the Committee for the Sanctity of Shabbat. Even if Weissman sold the chain, Goldknop said he would not approve anything unless Shefa Shuk's parent company, Dor Alon, closed all of its AM:PM locations on Shabbat, because allowing the sale would be a de facto approval of Dor Alon's operations on Shabbat. "At this point [the rabbis] will not make any decision that will allow any escape tactics for Dudi Weissman," Goldknop said through a translator. "To allow the sale of Shefa Shuk says we know he was desecrating Shabbat and we're helping him [continue to] desecrate Shabbat." The Rami Levy chain of supermarkets, which is closed on Shabbat, is interested in purchasing nine Shefa Shuk locations in haredi neighborhoods, but Levy said there was currently no deal in the works because of the rabbis. Dor Alon representative Tal Katz said the company was not closing its locations on Shabbat, even though they had earlier agreed to institute this gradually. He said the committee was unwilling to compromise, adding, "We were in negotiations and [the rabbis] said all or nothing." Many religious families with limited incomes relied on the inexpensive Shefa Shuk prices before the boycott, but Goldknop said the benefits of the boycott had helped these families by removing them from the "supermarket culture" of buying more than one needs. "It's a high-spending trend," he said. "It's not a matter of buying what one needs; it's a matter of buying what's there." By buying at small groceries, and only what they need, many haredim were now spending less on groceries, Goldknop said.