Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman on Thursday praised the High Court of Justice for a ruling that allows convenience stores in Tel Aviv to remain open on the Jewish day of rest, even as ultra-Orthodox government coalition members vowed to bypass the measure.
The Wednesday decision upheld a 2014 Tel Aviv City Council ordinance allowing the stores to remain open, saying it would protect the cosmopolitan character of the coastal and mostly secular city.
“This is a municipal law that is proportional, on the one hand it allows for Shabbat observance and on the other hand, allows a large number of people to spend their Shabbat as they wish,” Liberman wrote on his official Facebook page.
“Tel Aviv has a certain character that has emerged since the establishment of the state, and there’s no need for the government to intervene and damage the urban fabric that has developed,” he said.
The ruling was hailed as a victory by the city and liberal politicians, who said it was an important step against religious coercion. However, ultra-Orthodox officials railed against the decision and vowed to fight it and bypass the court.
Religious Affairs Minister David Azoulay on Thursday was the latest ultra-Orthodox minister to denounce the ruling, telling Army Radio that “they have no idea what the value of the Shabbat is in the Jewish state.”
“Unfortunately, in the Jewish state, the High Court has brutally trampled the Sabbath, and will not be forgiven,” Azoulay said.
A day earlier, Interior Minister and head of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party Aryeh Deri slammed the ruling as a change to the religious status quo in Israel, calling it a “serious blow to the holy Shabbat and the character of the Jewish people.”
Health Minister Yaakov Litzman from the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism said the ruling represented “the continuation of vulgar legal meddling with the values of religion and religious law.”
Litzman said the move left “no choice but to advance a legal process to circumvent the High Court.” Such a move, he said, would “prevent the continuing erosion of tradition and religion in the country,” Haaretz quoted him as saying.
Deri said that he and other religious lawmakers would meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu soon to protest the ruling.
Israeli law forbids businesses from operating during the Jewish day of rest, with exceptions including places of entertainment, restaurants and basic services such as pharmacies.
Tel Aviv, home to a mostly secular population, has sought to widen the scope of businesses allowed to be open on Shabbat, while ultra-Orthodox political factions have sought to add restrictions and improve enforcement of Sabbath laws.
The issue, which has pitted secular and religious politicians against each other, has been festering since March 2014. At that time, the Tel Aviv-Jaffa Municipality drafted a new bylaw after the Supreme Court ordered it to either replace or enforce existing regulations against Saturday commerce.
The municipality suggested allowing 164 grocery stores and kiosks measuring 500 square meters in size or less to open on Saturday.
The issue ultimately reached the High Court after three successive interior ministers — Deri from Shas, and Likud’s Silvan Shalom and Gideon Saar — refused to rule on the matter.
On Wednesday, three High Court justices threw out a government request for an extension of time and ruled that the Tel Aviv-Jaffa bylaw on the issue was proportional.
A longstanding dispute over Shabbat openings has also been taking place in Jerusalem, which has a large religious and ultra-Orthodox population.
In September, the Jerusalem municipality announced its intention to prosecute mini-markets that continue doing business on Saturdays in the city center, in contravention of an order issued last year.
Mayor Nir Barkat, who is secular, announced his intention to enforce bylaws requiring Shabbat closure of city-center businesses last August — a move that would affect seven supermarkets and kiosks.
But implementation was delayed after Yossi Havilio — a former Jerusalem municipal legal adviser-turned-Barkat critic — demanded a hearing on behalf of four of the businesses.
In January, the municipality announced that it would start enforcing the bylaws from early April. In February, Havilio presented a petition to the Supreme Court against the Shabbat ban.