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Conflict over Sabbath closings expands to new shopping mall

JERUSALEM, March 11 (JTA) — The tug-of-war between secular and religious Israelis continued this week over a new shopping mall near Tel Aviv and an art gallery in northern Israel. Africa-Israel, one of Israel’s largest developers, caused a stir with its decision to close a new mall on the Sabbath. The mall is being built in Ramat Aviv, north of Tel Aviv. Observers have linked the decision to the recent purchase of Africa-Israel by business leader Lev Levayev, an observant Jew. The decision took a number of businesses planning to take space in the new mall by surprise. Israel Theaters, which plans to operate a movie theater, demanded that it be compensated by the developer for the projected lost weekend incomes. Africa-Israel said in a statement this week that there was no contract with the theater operator about opening on the Sabbath. The Israeli daily Ha’aretz reported Monday that Africa-Israel had signed a contract with the McDonald’s restaurant chain and had been paid in advance for three months rent. A six-page addendum, attached to the standard contract, included a clause giving the landlord the authority to determine business hours on Jewish holidays and the Sabbath. The contract did not specify whether McDonald’s, which has both kosher and non-kosher restaurants in Israel, would be required to sell kosher products in its branch in the new mall. In a related incident, Amos and Alice Meroz have been opening their art gallery in Zichron Ya’acov on the Sabbath, provoking the anger of a local fervently Orthodox official. The official responded to what he views as a desecration of the Sabbath by parking a hearse in front of the gallery. The gallery owners said this failed to dissuade shoppers, who inched past it. “I should be free to decide what I want to do on this day,” Alice Meroz told Israel Radio. These disputes come against the backdrop of stepped-up efforts by the Social Affairs and Labor Ministry, now under the control of the fervently Orthodox Shas party, to enforce legislation prohibiting Jewish businesses from operating on the Sabbath. The ministry regularly dispatches non-Jewish inspectors to slap fines on shop owners who violate the law. The gallery owners had bypassed the labor law by selling their shop to a Muslim friend every Friday for about $3 and buying it back Saturday night. Amos Meroz said he got the idea from the religious custom of selling all leavened products to non-Jews in the days before Passover, when Jews are forbidden to eat or own anything that contains leavening.

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