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Court Rules Jerusalem Cannot Ban Showing of Films During Sabbath

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The secular community here won a major victory Sunday when a local court struck down a city ordinance banning the commercial screening of films on the Sabbath.

But the ruling is expected to intensify the bitter dispute between ultra-Orthodox and non-observant Jews over strict enforcement of Sabbath observance. The municipality, which has been seeking a compromise between the two communities, plans to appeal. The religious bloc in the Knesset reacted angrily to the court’s decision. Former Interior Minister Yitzhak Peretz, leader of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, called it a “breach of the status quo on religious affairs.” He indicated the religious parties would demand that the Knesset enact legislation restricting public entertainment on Friday nights.

The case developed when the municipality brought charges against two Jerusalem movie theaters for screening films on Friday nights in violation of a local ban. Judge Ayala Procaccia rejected the charges on grounds that issues involving freedom of religion and conscience are the province of the Knesset, not the City Council.

Mayor Teddy Kollek has been walking a thin line between the demands by the Orthodox for total enforcement of the Sabbath and the secular community’s claim of an individual’s right to decide how to spend Israel’s one non-working day. While Kollek agrees that Jerusalem’s “special character” should be preserved by keeping “commercial cinemas” closed on Friday nights, he would allow films at private clubs, such as the local Cinematheque.

He said Monday that he would continue to pursue that line. “Both sides will have to make concessions to coexist in this city,” he said.

At the same time, he blamed the “fanatical behavior” of the ultra-Orthodox for provoking a sharp reaction from the secular community. For more than a year, Jerusalem has been the scene of rock-throwing and pitch battles in the streets as ultra-Orthodox Jews attempted to prevent the non-observant from entering cinemas.

Observers here expect the violent demonstrations to intensify. According to one legal authority, Professor Baruch Bracha, the local court’s decision was in line with the basic approach of Israeli jurisprudence — that limitations on the freedom of the individual for religious reasons can be imposed only by the Knesset.

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