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'Live and let live'

High Court again rules Tel Aviv mini-marts can open on Shabbat

Ultra-Orthodox lawmakers vow to fight move and bypass ‘anti-religious’ ruling, saying decision desecrates Jewish values

Tamar Pileggi is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Illustrative: A Tel Aviv convenience store,  July 30, 2008. (Moshe Shai/Flash90/File)
Illustrative: A Tel Aviv convenience store, July 30, 2008. (Moshe Shai/Flash90/File)

The High Court of Justice on Thursday rejected a petition that would prevent Tel Aviv mini-markets from operating on Shabbat, infuriating ultra-Orthodox lawmakers who vowed to bypass the court with fresh Knesset legislation..

In her final ruling from the bench, outgoing Justice Miriam Naor underscored the need for religious pluralism in Israel.

“My decision does not reflect a moral decision or a particular religious worldview,” Naor said in her decision. “The ruling is what I believe to be the correct interpretation of the law.”

“Every individual should be allowed to shape the Sabbath in their own way,” she said. “Shared community life is not all or nothing.”

“Live and let live,” she wrote, urging “tolerance of the other and mutual respect.”

Supreme Court President Miriam Naor speaks at a ceremony for newly appointed judges at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem on July 20, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Earlier this year, the High Court upheld a 2014 Tel Aviv City Council ordinance allowing stores to remain open on Shabbat, a move hailed as protecting the cosmopolitan character of the mostly secular city. However, that decision drew scathing criticism from religious groups, who said it threatened the Jewish character of the state.

Interior Minister Aryeh Deri, who heads the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, strongly criticized the court’s decision at the time and, in July, petitioned the court to revisit the decision.

After Naor struck down his appeal on Thursday, Deri said it was a “sad moment” and accused the High Court of staging “a coup.”

Deri said this week that he and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu discussed fast-tracking two laws that would give the interior minister the authority “to preserve the character of the Jewish Sabbath in the public sphere.”

Health Minister Yaakov Litzman of the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism party called Thursday’s ruling “anti-religious” and accused the court of “screwing over” the Haredi public.

But deputy Tel Aviv Mayor Asaf Zamir hailed the ruling as a victory for the preservation of the city’s secular character.

Negev and Galilee Minister Aryeh Deri (left), Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (center) and Health Minister Yaakov Litzman at the weekly cabinet meeting in the Prime Minister’s Office, Jerusalem, December 20, 2015. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“This is a victory in a battle that we did not want to wage, and we made an effort to stay away from as to not deepen certain divisions,” he said, according to the Haaretz daily.

“But this battle was forced upon us, and today we can celebrate a victory of the usually silent majority who has grown accustomed to the beliefs of the minority being imposed upon them,” Zamir said.

Israeli law forbids businesses from operating during the Jewish day of rest, with exceptions including places of entertainment, restaurants and basic services such as pharmacies.

Tel Aviv, home to a mostly secular population, has sought 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 Shabbat laws.

The issue, which has pitted secular and religious politicians against each other, has been festering since March 2014. At that time, the Tel Aviv-Jaffa Municipality drafted a new bylaw after the Supreme Court ordered it to either replace or enforce existing regulations against Shabbat commerce.

The municipality suggested allowing 164 grocery stores and kiosks measuring 500 square meters (some 5,380 square feet) in size or less to open on Shabbat.

The issue ultimately reached the High Court after three successive interior ministers — Deri, Silvan Shalom and Gideon Sa’ar — refused to rule on the matter.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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