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.