Ultra-Orthodox lawmakers are reportedly working to advance legislation that would bypass a High Court of Justice ruling allowing convenience stores in Tel Aviv to remain open on the Jewish day of rest.
Ultra-Orthodox politicians are considering a number of ways to fight Wednesday’s decision, which upheld a 2014 Tel Aviv City Council ordinance allowing the stores to remain open, with the court saying it would protect the cosmopolitan character of the coastal and mostly secular city.
One of the measures reportedly being weighed by the lawmakers would be to pass legislation increasing the Interior Ministry’s authority in approving municipal bylaws, which would authorize ultra-Orthodox Interior Minister Aryeh Deri (Shas) to prevent municipalities from passing legislation allowing for businesses to operate on Shabbat, such as the 2014 ordinance by the Tel Aviv City Council.
Although the Interior Ministry currently already possesses the authority over matters pertaining to Shabbat in municipalities, ultra-Orthodox politicians fear that the recent court ruling will create a precedent allowing local governments to make decisions concerning the operation of businesses on Shabbat independent of the Interior Ministry, according to Channel 2.
An unnamed Interior Ministry official told the Haaretz daily that the purpose of such legislation was not to bypass the court ruling but to give the interior minister authority over local ordinances with “national implications.”
“The purpose of [proposed legislation] is not to create a law that bypasses the High Court of Justice, but rather to take the points the High Court highlighted in order to preserve the status quo,” he was quoted as saying. “The bill will work to create a balance between the local authorities that enact bylaws and the municipality ordinances that authorize the interior minister to approve municipal bylaws and determine the validity of the decision.”
He also said that although municipal bylaws “are meant to enable the daily routine” of local residents “when it comes to national issues with nationwide implications, the authority of the interior minister will be preserved in order to block bylaws” under the proposed legislation.
Another measure reportedly being weighed by ultra-Orthodox lawmakers to fight the ruling is to increase oversight and enforcement of the Hours of Work and Rest Law, which would allow for punitive measures to be taken against businesses which are found to have violated the law by employing workers during their day of rest.
In addition, lawmakers from both the ultra-Orthodox Shas and United Torah Judaism parties, as well as the national religious Jewish Home party, are considering requesting an additional hearing from the High Court, Channel 2 reported.
Although much of the opposition to the High Court ruling has been led by ultra-Orthodox politicians, Jewish Home MK Moti Yogev came out strongly against the ruling in an interview with Channel 10, during which he compared the operation of a business on Shabbat to rape and robbery.
“There are a lot of rapists and a lot of robbers — are we also going to allow them?” he said.
Amid the outrage over the ruling from religious leaders, a number of Tel Aviv officials and politicians hailed the ruling as a victory, saying it was an important step against religious coercion.
Earlier Thursday, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman praised the High Court decision, saying it protects both the sanctity of Shabbat and the secular character of Tel Aviv.
“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 added.
Tel Aviv, home to a mostly secular population, has sought in recent years 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 the 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.
Under Israeli law, businesses are forbidden from operating during the Jewish day of rest, with exceptions including places of entertainment, restaurants and basic services such as pharmacies.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.