Grocery stores to close on Shabbat in Jerusalem following city decision

In August last year, the Jerusalem Municipality announced that it would be increasing the enforcement of the city bylaw prohibiting commercial activity in the capital.

Cofix’s new grocery store (photo credit: NIV ELIS)
Cofix’s new grocery store
(photo credit: NIV ELIS)
The Jerusalem Municipality has instructed seven downtown store owners who open their mini markets on Shabbat that they will have to close them over the Sabbath starting on Friday, April 1.
There is a store on King David Street which is to remain open, because it is outside of the area defined by the city’s legal adviser as problematic, and there are others that will remain open farther south, away from downtown.
In August, the municipality announced that it would be increasing the enforcement of the city bylaw prohibiting commercial activity on Shabbat.
Many cities, including Jerusalem, have bylaws that were enacted many years ago to prohibit businesses from opening on Shabbat unless they were leisure-oriented, such as restaurants, cafes and cinemas.
The announcement sparked condemnation from a broad swath of Jerusalem’s population, including the store owners.
They argued that they had opened their stores on Shabbat for years and alleged that the step was taken as a quid pro quo to the haredi political parties in the municipal coalition over desecration of Shabbat in the public realm, and more specifically their displeasure with the opening of the Yes Planet cinema multiplex next to the Abu Tor neighborhood.
Enforcement of the bylaw was postponed while the municipality heard the claims of the store owners and considered the issue from a legal standpoint.
The Yerushalmim Party, a member of Mayor Nir Barkat’s coalition, strongly criticized the decision, with Yerushalmim city councilman Rabbi Aaron Leibowitz calling it “mortal blow for religious and secular cooperation in Jerusalem,” as well as for the grocery stores that do a large percentage of their business on Shabbat.
“This is a breach of trust and a clear statement that the comfort of someone who does not observe Shabbat is not important at all,” said Leibowitz.
“We in the Yerushalmim Party will not agree to the statement that this city does not belong to all its citizens,” he added.
The Yerushalmim party said in a statement that it was not in favor of widespread commerce on Shabbat, but said that keeping a small number of grocery stores open in the city center for tourist and residents was important.
“We are saddened that your measures are leading toward a coalition crisis in the municipal council,” the party wrote in a letter to Barkat.
Dr. Laura Wharton of the Meretz Party and head of the municipal opposition called on Barkat to retract the decision.
“It’s unthinkable that the mayor will close businesses operating for decades in the city center just to appease his coalition partners,” said Wharton.
Nachmiel Saban, a city councilman for Shas, insisted, however, that the decision was not in any way political and is simply a matter of enforcing the law.
“This is a pathetic and ridiculous claim [by those opposing the closures],” said Saban. “The Yerushalmim and Hitorerut parties are basically saying that the law should not be enforced.”
He added that it was not relevant how long grocery stores have been open on Shabbat, saying that violation of the law over a long period did not justify its continued violation.
Barkat’s office said in response that there had been no change in the recommendations of the legal adviser to the municipality, and the move was in line with the ruling of the High Court of Justice over the opening of grocery stores in Tel Aviv, in which the court ordered the municipality to enforce the law and fine grocery stores opening on Shabbat.
“Through the hearings that were carried out, it was decided to implement the decision of the legal adviser within 60 days for seven grocery stores, while one grocery store under Christian ownership will be allowed to open on Shabbat as long as the store is closed on Sunday,” Barkat’s office said.
“The municipality will continue to continue to operate in accordance with the law and the status quo, which permits leisure activities, [the opening of] restaurants and cinemas on Shabbat and prohibits commerce and public transport. The decision pertains to seven grocery stores out of hundreds of businesses open on Shabbat, in accordance with the status quo.”