Tel Aviv Court rules against closing Shabbat violators - for now

Court finds that city did its duty by bringing the 21 stores to court, but balked at the idea that they should be forced to close.

AM PM Supermarket (photo credit: PR)
AM PM Supermarket
(photo credit: PR)
The Tel Aviv Municipal Court on Thursday ruled that 21 grocery stores caught violating Shabbat could stay open, effectively putting the decision on Tel Aviv’s Saturday openings back in the hands of Interior Minister Gideon Sa’ar.
Judge Aviyam Barkai ruled that the municipality had fulfilled its Supreme Court-ordered obligations to enforce Shabbat law by bringing branches of chains such as AM:PM, Tiv Ta’am, and Super Yudah to court, but balked at the idea that they should be forced to close.
“Whoever thought that closure orders would be given at the end of the hearing is wrong,” Barkai said, noting the short amount of time between when the petition was filed to the court and the expected closures.
“The Supreme Court said that if there is a law, it must be enforced – that is, to take it to court, and you did. I’m asking why I have to issue an order to close the stores,” he said.
The Supreme Court had made its ruling on a case brought by a small business union, which argued that the practice gave big chains an unfair advantage, and the court ruled that Tel Aviv was not properly enforcing its laws.
For years, the municipality has simply doled out fines to stores that stayed open on Shabbat, leaving them to operate at somewhat lower, but still positive, profitability.
The fines served as a steady source of municipal revenue.
From 2008 to June 2013, Tel Aviv collected a total of NIS 10,772,790 in fines from Shabbat violators, according to a February report by the Knesset Research Institute.
That figure represents less than 8 percent of the total it collected in all non-parking fines, but still accounts for a sizable chunk of revenue.
Last month, Sa’ar rejected a new bylaw intended to codify the stores’ legal standing on Shabbat.
This week, the city council passed an updated version, but until Sa’ar weighs in on it, the municipality must follow the Supreme Court ruling. Sa’ar has only 60 days to make his decision, meaning his decision will be in place before the next court date, which the judge set for November 6.
The new Tel Aviv bylaw awaiting Sa’ar’s approval would provide licenses to 164 markets to remain open on Shabbat, based on a lottery by neighborhood. According to a Knesset study, 245 such businesses opened their doors on Saturdays in 2013.
The 21 stores in questions had all received three fines for operating on Shabbat before the municipality ordered them in front of a judge.