Tel Aviv faces pressure for policy on Shabbat businesses

End-of-the-week deadline looms for presenting plan; Municipality official says Tel Aviv-Jaffa will remain a free city.

Tiv Taam market 370 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Tiv Taam market 370
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Leading up to an end-of-the- week court-set deadline to clamp down on businesses operating on Shabbat, the Tel Aviv Municipality’s legal counsel on Monday said it is still working on formulating the city’s official response.
When the response is presented in a court of law, it will be released to the public, the official explained, adding that it will be in keeping with what Mayor Ron Huldai has said in the past – that Tel Aviv-Jaffa will remain a free city.
The Supreme Court on June 25 ruled that the municipality must impose stronger penalties on businesses that operate on Shabbat, which will allow secular owners of small shops to take the day off, and gave the city 60 days to do so.
The ruling called on the municipality to enforce the closing of the large, popular supermarket chains Tiv Ta’am and AM:PM on Saturdays, noting that the current fine of NIS 660 per week imposed on the businesses does not achieve the objective of the law regarding business opening and closing times.
The court emphasized that it was not taking a side in the debate over the place of religion in Israel, only enforcing the law as legislated.
Secular owners of small grocery stores say they lose customers to the large chains, and are entitled to a day of rest observed by all according to law without losing business.
Previously, the petitioners had noted that they were secular and were not seeking to observe Shabbat according to Jewish law, only to have at least one day off.
The court’s decision had overturned a ruling by the Tel Aviv District Court, which, sitting as an administrative court, threw out a petition by small supermarket owners regarding the larger stores’ operations in February 2012.
The petitioners had argued that by opening on Saturdays, the supermarkets are violating the provisions of the Business Licensing Law (1968) and its associated regulations, specifically the Hours of Work and Rest Law (1951) and a 1980 bylaw of the Tel Aviv Municipality regarding business opening and closing times – and that the municipality should be ordered to enforce the law.
At a 24-hour kiosk on Hayarkon Street near the Tel Aviv Port, cashier Uri Shamai said he was in favor of shutting down all kiosks and grocery stores in the city on Shabbat, saying that today it just doesn’t pay for small kiosks to stay open on that day.
Shamai reached below the counter and showed off a stack of NIS 730 fines from the municipality for staying open on Shabbat. He said that with all the large grocery stores that are open on Shabbat, fewer and fewer people go to the small kiosks that are open on the day of rest, making it hardly worth it.
He added that his opinion has changed over the past 31 years working at the store, adding, “Eventually, if you let the kiosks and the grocery stores stay open, then why not the malls? The shuk? Will it eventually still be Shabbat?” Around the corner, Yossi, the manager of a 24/7 Super Baba on Ben-Yehuda Street, said that in theory, he supports closing on Shabbat – but only if all of the other stores were required to stay closed as well and real enforcement is carried out.
“In the meantime you can’t do it. Why should I close on Shabbat if the guy across the street won’t? It’s a competition.”