High Court hears dispute over supermarkets remaining open on Shabbat

Terms of new amendment and dispute between the Interior Ministry and the municipality were unclear from the hearing.

Israeli Supermarket (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Israeli Supermarket
The High Court of Justice on Monday ordered Interior Minister Silvan Shalom and the Tel Aviv Municipality to iron out differences within 90 days over a proposed amendment to a law dealing with whether food stores can open on Shabbat in Tel Aviv and whether they can be fined for doing so.
The hearing came following a petition by a group of small and independent store owners to block the amendment from going into effect.
The terms of the amendment and the dispute between the Interior Ministry and the municipality were unclear from the hearing, with much of the oral arguments revolving around accusations of which side had failed to answer questions from the other side or delayed the process.
Monday’s hearing was the latest event in a long round of judicial proceedings regarding the issue of stores opening on Shabbat.
The drawn-out process is also partly due to the fact that the post of interior minister has been filled by three different persons over the last year, with Shalom only taking over the reins since the new government was sworn in.
Supreme Court President Miriam Naor said she wanted to send an “unequivocal message” to the parties that the issue cannot be indefinitely delayed.
Last November, Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court Judge Aviyam Barkai issued an order permitting supermarkets to remain open on Shabbat.
The ruling was a highly technical one due to the confusing procedural context in which Barkai denied the Tel Aviv Municipality’s requests to enforce its orders to close stores that were open on Shabbat even though it had previously passed an amendment to a local law that permits stores to remain open on the Jewish day of rest.
Former interior minister Gideon Sa’ar refused last June to approve the old amendment, leaving the municipality with no choice but to penalize stores that operated on Shabbat and to request court approval to close them.
The court nullified Sa’ar’s decision, appearing to remove any further moves against the stores.
The ruling also declared that former interior minister Gilad Erdan will not have the right to hold up the old amendment’s publication and its going into full effect.
Barkai said he understood that his decision impacted Tel Aviv’s character and the rest of the country in terms of the value it placed on Shabbat and the balance between religion and state.
Prior to the amendment, the High Court of Justice had ruled in 2013 that, because of the old law that stores cannot open on Shabbat, the municipality needed to enforce the closing of the large, popular supermarket chains Tiv Ta’am and AM:PM on Saturdays, noting that the fine of NIS 660 per week imposed on the businesses does not achieve the objective.
Secular owners of small grocery stores had requested the law to close stores on Shabbat to be enforced, saying they lost customers to the large chains, and were entitled to a day of rest observed by all without losing business.