Day of wrest
Hebrew media review

Day of wrest

A court decision to allow Tel Aviv stores to open on Saturday is only the latest salvo, as the ultra-Orthodox promise they won’t roll over on Shabbos

Two men walk past shops closed on Shabbat in south Tel Aviv, August 23, 2008. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Two men walk past shops closed on Shabbat in south Tel Aviv, August 23, 2008. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Torah scholars who believe in the divine authorship of the Hebrew Bible often point out that the Book is perfect, with not a single letter extra or a single letter missing. But if that’s true, how come God left out clear instruction on how the Jewish state should deal with corner stores that want to stay open on Shabbat — the day of rest?

Somehow thousands of years of exegesis, from Rashi to Dudu the bus driver, have also been unable to answer the question definitively, thus it was left to the High Court on Thursday to rule that, yes, corner stores in Israel can stay open if the city they are in allows it.

While the take above may be tongue in cheek, the actual ruling is quite serious, affecting the lives of many a secular Tel Avivian, setting up yet another coalition fight in the government and making top news in Friday morning’s papers.

Haaretz, whose readers are more likely than not corner-store-hungry Tel Aviv denizens, leads off with the long and short of it, its top headline reading simply “High Court rules: Corner stores in Tel Aviv will stay open on Shabbat.”

The paper quotes from outgoing chief justice Miriam Naor’s decision that “the decision is based on live and let live. My ruling does not reflect a ruling of value on the desirable character of the Shabbat. This is not a secular or a religious ruling. This ruling reflects the correct interpretation of the law.”

Haaretz’s lead editorial is plainly pleased with the decision, and warns those ultra-Orthodox planning to overturn it to not try anything.

“Instead of looking for ways to bypass the court, the ultra-Orthodox public’s representatives had better listen to the message the court conveyed and not try to coerce their way of life on the residents of Tel Aviv, a city with an overtly secular character,” the editorial reads.

Yet that is apparently exactly what they plan on doing, and they are not wasting any time, according to Israel Hayom, which reports on plans being drawn up by the ultra-Orthodox to bypass the landmark ruling with a steaming bowl of legislation.

“Right after they heard the court decision on allowing the stores in Tel Aviv to open on Shabbat, representatives of the Haredi parties were already announcing a ‘Court bypass law,’” the paper reports, adding that on Sunday the parties will present bills forbidding stores from opening and stripping local authorities of the ability to license them to stay open.

If the columnists for the paper, which is known for being a staunch supporter of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, are any indication of the way the government is leaning, then it seems the ultra-Orthodox may get their way.

It’s not that writers Haim Shine and Yehuda Shlesinger necessarily want to shut down businesses on Shabbat, but they just don’t think the court should be allowed to make that call (apparently forgetting that all the court did was back Tel Aviv’s right to determine its own bylaws).

“The question is once again raised of who is supposed to determine the character of the country, seven judges or 8 million people,” Shlesinger asks. “Just as in the cases of the gas deposits, the migrants, the Western Wall deal and a tax on a third apartment, here as well the public representatives that we chose democratically are being stripped of their ability to decide how our lives will look. Anyone who wants the country to have a religious character should vote for a religious party that will advance those issues in the Knesset. Anyone who wants to break the status quo on opening stores and public transportation on Shabbat should vote for a party that will promise that. We can also demand that the centrist parties accept our voices. That’s how it is in democracy. We chose, we will decide.”

Shine’s column meanwhile holds out hope that Naor’s replacement, Esther Hayut, will take the court in a “new direction.”

President Reuven Rivlin (center) and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked (right) alongside incoming Supreme Court Chief Justice Esther Hayut (left) during her swearing-in ceremony at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem, October 26, 2017 (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Yedioth Ahronoth seemingly takes a much softer approach to the issue, with a front-page headline heralding the new court head as “President Hayut and Grandma Estie.” Inside as well, the ruling by Naor is buried under a photo spread of the handover ceremony, even with the paper calling the corner-store decision “Naor’s most significant,” in her two years as court president.

But as much love as the paper has for the women of the court, there is anger directed at the man leading the charge to overturn the ruling — Shas’s Aryeh Deri — in a column by Shachar Ginosar. The writer points out that the interior minister was all for municipalities being able to make their own rules when it comes to ultra-Orthodox cities trying to fend off a rule that forbids public money being used for gender-segregated events.

“When it comes to ultra-Orthodox citizens, the minister refuses to enforce the law, no matter the explanation from the Justice Ministry that it is only about events for the general public and that ‘there is no intention to force the Haredi community to change its way of life.’ It’s hard to find a better example of government hypocrisy and double standards,” Ginosar writes.

Of course, the ultra-Orthodox are not a homogeneous blob, as Haaretz writer Aaron Rabinowitz points out in a front-page story looking at the rift being caused in the community over the protests against the Israel Defense Forces draft.

Rabinowitz reports that mainstream Haredi factions are worried that the protests by the extremist Jerusalem Faction are painting them all with the same bad brush, and mainstream leaders are starting to speak out against the demonstrations.

“The demonstrations are causing us insane harm,” the paper quotes from a senior official in the Degel Hatorah party. “Young children see this and are drawn to it. The secular community is stigmatizing our entire community as if it were involved in this.”

Sometimes Haredi protests are legitimate, as may very well be the case with a suit filed by a young Haredi woman — alleging abuse at the hands of Sara Netanyahu — while she worked at the Prime Minister’s Residence, which Yedioth Ahronoth plays large.

The paper runs what looks to be several thousand words based on the suit against Netanyahu, which include details about the various draconian rules Sara Netanyahu allegedly forced upon the workers, like having to bring a full wardrobe to work every day and to wash it that night whether or not you wore everything in it, having to wash her hands “about 100 times a day,” being fined thousands of shekels when the missus thought workers had caused damage, being told to run instead of walk, and more.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s wife, Sara, visits cancer patients and their parents at a protest tent in Jerusalem’s Sacher Park, June 15, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“When the claimant couldn’t take it anymore and asked for a short break, Mrs. Netanyahu answered that her request was unreasonable and added that actually she is the one who is suffering for the State of Israel. In her words: ‘I was just in Argentina and I suffered for the State of Israel, so where do you have the chutzpah to dare ask for a break,’” the paper quotes from the suit.

Despite some of the claims seeming more like a cartoon villain than reality (though who knows), the paper’s Amichai Iteli still pens a column writing that given all the various accusations against her by former workers, perhaps it’s time action be taken and she no longer be allowed contact with them, instead of everything being dismissed as lies as usual.

“Benjamin Netanyahu, the man who is supposed to take responsibility for all our lives, needs to start to take responsibility for the continuing abuse visited upon the workers, as well as for his wife, at the Prime Minister’s Residence,” he writes. “And this time, for a change, he should not blame the media or start a campaign of delegitimization against a young Haredi woman who only wanted to support her family.”

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