Five cities have said they plan to appeal to the High Court of Justice against an Interior Ministry decision to annul their municipal bylaws, which were passed in a bid to circumvent a law banning mini-markets from operating on Shabbat.
The local authorities of Modiin, Rishon Lezion, Holon, Givatayim, and Herzliya all passed local ordinances enabling some businesses to remain open on Saturdays, but under a law passed by the Knesset earlier this year their efforts have been stopped by the Interior Ministry.
The so-called “mini-markets law” grants the interior minister the power to oversee and reject local ordinances relating to whether businesses may remain open on Shabbat, the Jewish day of rest that runs from Friday evening until Saturday night.
Under the law, approval will only be given if the minister deems the businesses are required in order to meet essential needs. Previously, the default was that the interior minister had 60 days to veto any such by-laws.
Interior Minister Aryeh Deri of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party rejected the five cities by-laws and explained that the municipalities did not show that the business need to be open on Shabbat, the Kan public broadcaster reported Sunday.
Deri said in a statement that “he sees the Jewish, and social value in allowing workers to rest on Saturdays.”
“In addition, the authorities which passed sweeping municipal by-laws enabling the opening of business for trade did not prove the necessity for it, as is laid down in the law,” the minister said.
Deri noted that enforcing the law is solely the responsibility of the local municipality.
“The Interior Ministry has no authority or ability to enforce this,” he said.
Director-general of the Interior Ministry Mordechai Cohen sent a letter to the municipalities explaining why the by-laws were rejected.
Cohen wrote that if the by-laws are approved it would only serve to reward all the “criminal businesses” who for years had operated outside the law by not having a permit to be open on Shabbat.
Modi’in Mayor Haim Bibas, who is also chairman of Federation of Local Authorities, claimed Deri was making an effort to shore up political support among his voter base and the cities would take the matter to the High Court of Justice, “in order to protect all of the citizens of Israel.”
“The city of Modi’in will remain open and I will not let any political entity pull us into the dark ages,” Bibas wrote in a letter to Deri.
The law passed the Knesset 58-57 on January 9, despite an opposition attempt to filibuster the legislation and fierce criticism of the measure from some corners of the ruling coalition.
After the controversial legislation was passed Deri said in an interview he would not enforce the law that caused outrage among secular communities.
The religious status quo is a fragile combination of national legislation and municipal bylaws, shaped over several decades, and it is supposed to strike a balance between the needs of Israel’s religious and secular communities.