In a continuing battle over the right of grocery stores to remain open on the Jewish Sabbath, Jerusalem municipality on Monday announced its intention to prosecute minimarkets that continue doing business on Saturdays in the city center, in contravention of an order issued last year.
The move, reported by Army Radio, comes in the wake of efforts by Interior Minister Aryeh Deri to impose a blanket Shabbat closure on all businesses in the heart of mainly secular Tel Aviv.
The Jewish religion mandates a day of rest from sundown on Friday to sundown on Saturday.
Mayor Nir Barkat, who is secular, announced his intention to enforce bylaws requiring Sabbath closure of city-center businesses last August — a move that would affect seven supermarkets and kiosks.
But implementation was delayed after Yossi Havilio — a former Jerusalem municipal legal adviser-turned-Barkat critic — demanded a hearing on behalf of four of the businesses.
In January, the municipality announced that it would start enforcing the bylaws from early April.
In February, Havilio presented a petition to the Supreme Court against the Sabbath ban.
Havilio told The Times of Israel Monday that the municipality’s move “constitutes a betrayal by Barkat of the secular community.”
He said there was “no justification for closing minimarkets in the city center, which is an entertainment area and not a religious or ultra-orthodox one.”
He added that the legal battle to keep the stores open would continue.
Jerusalem has long been the stage for secular-religious battles over the Sabbath opening of stores or places of entertainment in non-Orthodox neighborhoods. Last year, the ultra-Orthodox community tried unsuccessfully to stop Saturday screenings at the new YES Planet cinema complex south of the city center. And two years previously, the community failed to shut down The First Station — the renovated train-station complex a five-minute walk away from the cinema.
The order for city-center minimarkets to close came a week after the Yes Planet opened in August 2015, prompting secular councilor Ofer Berkovitz to suggest that Barkat was compensating the ultra-Orthodox — a charge that the mayor denied.
The issue of Shabbat opening in Tel Aviv has festered since March 2014, when the Tel Aviv municipality drafted a new bylaw. This came after the Supreme Court had ordered it to either replace or enforce existing regulations against Shabbat commerce.
Tel Aviv decided to allow 164 grocery stores and kiosks measuring 500 sqm or less to open on Shabbat — a move opposed by Orthodox Jews.
The decision by Deri, who heads the ultra-Orthodox Shas Party, to wade into the issue has been linked to a Supreme Court ruling, due in the coming months, on four petitions submitted against the Tel Aviv bylaw.
A committee chaired by Eli Gruner, the director of the Prime Minister’s Office, has come up with alternative legal positions in advance of a Supreme Court ruling.