Interior minister rejects Sabbath opening of Tel Aviv stores

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israel’s interior minister, Gideon Saar, rejected an amendment to a Tel Aviv statute that would have allowed some stores to stay open on the Sabbath and holidays.

On Sunday, Saar said in a statement that he struck down the amendment approved by the municipality’s City Council in March because it was not explained why it was essential for the stores to remain open on the Sabbath rather than meet the public’s needs during the rest of the week.

The amendment, which dealt with grocery and convenience stores, needed the approval of the Interior Ministry to go into effect.

Saar also said the amendment harmed Jewish and democratic values in Israel.

“It contradicts the democratic aspect in that it creates contempt for the rule of law, a basic principle in any democratic government,” Saar said. “It contradicts the Jewish aspect in that it harms the national and social notion of the Sabbath, a central facet of the public sphere.”

It is illegal in Israel to open retail businesses on the Jewish Sabbath, which begins at sundown Friday and ends after sunset Saturday. Businesses that remain open are levied modest fines.

Saar did, however, approve the Sabbath opening of businesses in the Tel Aviv Port, Jaffa Port and Hatahana D, the renovated Old Train Station complex. Convenience stores in gas stations also may remain open.

Israel’s Supreme Court in June 2013 ordered the Tel Aviv-Jaffa municipality to enforce a by-law that bans its businesses from opening on Saturday.

The high court ruled that the municipality and two large supermarket chains violated the municipal by-law against opening on the Sabbath. The court suggested the city could change the by-law to allow businesses to remain open on Saturday.

The owners of the small shops claimed they were losing customers to the chains that could afford to remain open on Saturday and absorb the fines.

Also Sunday, a proposed bill to allow public transportation on the Sabbath was rejected by the Knesset’s Constitution, Law and Justice Committee. Three government ministers voted in favor, three against and three abstained.

One who abstained, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, head of the Hatnua party, was quoted as saying by Ynet that “there should be public transportation, but not entirely – the Shabbat is a special day and should be kept as such, for seculars too. Proper and proportionate arrangements need to be made on this matter.”

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