High Court rules to keep Tel Aviv supermarkets open on Shabbat

Attempt by association of grocery stores to withdraw petition fails.

AM:PM store in Israel (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
AM:PM store in Israel
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
In a landmark ruling on a deeply contentious issue, the High Court of Justice ruled on Thursday that grocery stores can remain open on Shabbat in Tel Aviv following a decade-long struggle against the practice between small business owners and the city’s municipal authority.
Haredi lawmakers reacted with fury to the ruling, vowing to introduce legislation that will override the ruling and even give the Knesset the ability to overide High Court rulings more broadly, as has also been proposed of late by the Bayit Yehudi party.
In the ruling, Naor was critical of Interior Minister Aryeh Deri’s position, saying it did not grant sufficient autonomy to the Tel Aviv Municipal Authority, which she said is the basis for local government.
For decades the Association of Tradesmen and Independent Business Owners has fought a campaign to force large grocery chains such as AM:PM and others to close on Shabbat because opening contravened the law and represented unfair competition for independent stores that elect to close on the Sabbath.
In 2013, the High Court ruled in favor of a petition by the association based on the prohibitions in Tel Aviv municipal law, but the Tel Aviv Municipal Council then approved a municipal bylaw in 2014 that specifically allowed 165 grocery stores around the city to open on Shabbat.
However, the bylaw never received the required approval of an interior minister and, eventually, the Tel Aviv Municipal Council petitioned the High Court to force the government to make a decision on its bylaw.
When the government failed to make a decision, the court ruled in April that the bylaw must be allowed to go into effect.
The Association of Tradesmen and Independent Business Owners’ chairman, Yair Korach, told The Jerusalem Post his organization felt that due to the actions of the court and the Attorney-General’s Office they had not received a fair hearing and sought to withdraw their petition so that the status quo would remain.
Korach cited several technical requests made by the association’s legal representation, all of which had been rejected, including a request that the case be based broadly on all relevant laws pertaining to work on Shabbat as opposed to the insistence of the attorney-general that it be based only on a specific clause of the Law for Hours of Work and Rest.
Korach also noted that former justice Elyakim Rubenstein, who ruled in the minority against the Tel Aviv Municipality in April, was taken off the expanded panel whose ruling is expected on Thursday.
“We were dealt blow after blow, so it appears to us that there is nothing for us in the High Court, so we sought to withdraw the petition,” because no decision would be better now than a negative one, he said.
The association’s attorneys, however, refused to do so, saying that, although they understood the frustrations, it would be damaging and unprofessional to withdraw the petition at such a late stage.
Korach and the association argue that by opening on Shabbat when other businesses seek to take advantage of their day of rest, large chains are unfairly taking business away from smaller independent outlets.
“They are stealing the income of grocery stores that observe the law,” he said, referring to the Law for Hours of Work and Rest, which prohibits requiring an employee to work on the Sabbath.
A new bill proposed by United Torah Judaism MK Moshe Gafni in order to circumvent the decision has been put on the agenda of the Ministerial Committee for Legislation on Sunday.
In response, Kulanu MK Rachel Azaria has had her bill, which would regulate commercial activity on Shabbat while at the same time formally permit the operation of leisure and recreational institutions and some public transport on the Sabbath, added to the committee’s agenda.