Bodegas in central Jerusalem ordered to close on Shabbat

Mayor Barkat orders enforcement of long-ignored municipal bylaws forbidding commercial activity on day of rest

Raoul Wootliff is a former Times of Israel political correspondent and Daily Briefing podcast producer.

File: Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, February 23, 2015. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
File: Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, February 23, 2015. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

The Jerusalem Municipality announced Thursday it would begin enforcing bylaws requiring the closing of businesses in the city’s center on Shabbat, from sundown on Fridays to nightfall on Saturdays.

The measure will take effect in early April, the city said, and would affect seven supermarkets and kiosks.

City Hall has seen fierce wrangling over the issue since Mayor Nir Barkat announced he would begin enforcing the bylaws last August. An attorney representing four of the businesses in the city center — centered on Zion Square at the intersection of the Jaffa and Ben Yehudah boardwalks — demanded a hearing at the time, which delayed implementation.

Municipal bylaws allow dining and entertainment venues to remain open on Shabbat in Jerusalem, but not commercial enterprises.

In recent years, as part of an unspoken status quo between Jerusalem’s ultra-Orthodox and secular communities, city hall has turned a blind eye to a number of supermarkets and bodegas that opened downtown on Shabbat and which catered to the secular, tourist and student communities in the area. The lack of enforcement of the law — which has been on the books since 1955 — drew the ire of ultra-Orthodox activists and led to occasional demonstrations outside the stores on Shabbat.

The move to tighten enforcement comes after the October 2013 municipal election in which Barkat, thought to represent secular Jerusalemites, forged an alliance with parts of the ultra-Orthodox community to defeat the Shas- and Likud-backed challenge by candidate Moshe Lion. Tensions over Shabbat observance in the city came to a head over two new cinema complexes that opened in recent months: the Cinema City complex in the city’s northwest, which was forced to close on Shabbat, and the Yes Planet theater in the city’s south, which has remained open.

The municipality noted on Thursday that hundreds of businesses remain open in the city on Shabbat, and only seven are affected by the latest decision, but the attorney representing the affected businesses, Yosi Havilio, accused Barkat of “caving in to ultra-Orthodox pressure.”

As part of national labor laws governing Shabbat, cities and regional councils are given the option of drafting bylaws regulating which businesses may remain open on the Jewish day of rest, and have the jurisdiction to penalize with modest fines businesses who violate the municipal laws.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

read more:
Never miss breaking news on Israel
Get notifications to stay updated
You're subscribed
Register for free
and continue reading
Registering also lets you comment on articles and helps us improve your experience. It takes just a few seconds.
Already registered? Enter your email to sign in.
Please use the following structure:
Or Continue with
By registering you agree to the terms and conditions. Once registered, you’ll receive our Daily Edition email for free.
Register to continue
Or Continue with
Log in to continue
Sign in or Register
Or Continue with
check your email
Check your email
We sent an email to you at .
It has a link that will sign you in.