Jerusalem city council to force kiosks to close on Shabbat

A number of small convenience stores in secular downtown to be shut on the Sabbath, municipality says, days after ultra-Orthodox protest Shabbat infringements in a new cinema complex

View of the Ben Yehuda street in the center of Jerusalem on February 28, 2013. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
View of the Ben Yehuda street in the center of Jerusalem on February 28, 2013. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

A number of corner stores in downtown Jerusalem will have to remain closed on Shabbat or face heavy fines, the Jerusalem City Council said Tuesday.

The announcement came four days after thousands of ultra-Orthodox men took to the streets to demand the closure of a new movie theater complex in the city that stays open on the Sabbath, which lasts from Friday evening to Saturday evening.

Some secular councilmen told Channel 10 that the timing of the announcement was no coincidence, as the municipality was seeking to placate ultra-Orthodox residents by offering them a “restitution package” in which a number of stores will be closed in exchange for allowing the newly built Yes Planet cinema complex and a large cafe in the city center to remain open on Friday nights.

The Jerusalem City Council denied the allegations and said the move was linked to a High Court ruling ordering shops in Tel Aviv shut for business on the day of rest.

According to municipal bylaws, dining and entertainment venues can remain open on Shabbat in Jerusalem, while establishments that engage in standard commerce cannot.

Over the past few years, the city council turned a blind eye to a number of supermarkets and kiosks that opened downtown, much to the ire of the ultra-Orthodox populace that would frequently stage demonstrations outside them on Shabbat.

But the decision announced Tuesday made by the municipality’s legal adviser, Eli Malka, effectively drew up the city into areas with differing levels of Shabbat enforcement.

Downtown Jerusalem, along with many of the ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods, will see heavy enforcement of Shabbat laws, while businesses in secular neighborhoods in the city’s south and west will be largely spared any legal oversight.

Accordingly, eight supermarkets and kiosks operating in the city center will be shut for business on Saturdays or face heavy fines, while other establishments in secular areas such as Talpiot, Ein Kerem and Kiryat Yovel may remain open without penalty.

The Jerusalem Municipality said the arrangement was reached a month ago and wasn’t connected to Friday’s clashes between security forces and ultra-Orthodox protesters in the city’s north.

“There is no change in the law or the status quo practiced for years in Jerusalem whereby cinemas in the city were allowed to remain open on Shabbat. The municipality’s attorney defined different areas of the city in which enforcement will be reduced and other areas in which enforcement will be increased,” a statement released by the mayor’s office said.

“It should be noted that the issue does not apply to the Arab neighborhoods in the city. It is important to stress that, in accordance with the law and the status quo, movie theaters, restaurants and entertainment venues will continue operating as normal [on Shabbat],” the statement added.

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