After a public outcry, a Tel Aviv market complex on Wednesday revoked a NIS 3,500 ($900) monthly fine imposed on a cafe owner who refused to open his business on Shabbat.
“Acting from a place of public responsibility, the management has decided to cancel the fine, and contact the relevant legal authorities to investigate the violation,” read a statement by Sarona market, according to Ynet.
Religious politicians and organizations had expressed outrage after a Facebook status went viral decrying the fine, Hebrew media reported Wednesday.
Ofer Leiferman, the owner of the cafe, was fined after he disobeyed requests by the Sarona management to keep the store open seven days a week.
The owner of the “Henri’s” chain said that although the contract stated that the business had to stay open on Shabbat, there was an informal understanding that the clause would not be enforced.
“I am not going to be the leader of a public cause, that is not my goal. All I want is to be allowed to rest on Shabbat,” Leiferman said.
The Sarona management, however, called closing the business “a fundamental breach of the renting agreement,” in a letter sent to the “Henri’s,” the Hebrew-language news site Walla reported.
The cause gained publicity after an Israeli woman called the fine “outrageous” in a Facebook post that went viral.
“It is immoral and it pains me personally that a person’s income is taken from him unjustly,” Maayan Cohen Adiv wrote in her post.
Leiferman had received “tremendous support” on social media due to Cohen Adiv’s post, he told the news site NRG. The store owner emphasized that he respects those who want to work on Shabbat but that he should not be forced to work.
Religious groups and politicians sharply condemned the fine.
“It is absurd that a business owner is being forced to absorb a fine of thousands of shekels in order to receive a weekly day of rest with his family,” said The Coalition for Shabbat Equality, an organization established to ensure that workers are not discriminated against for taking time off on Shabbat, Israel’s official day of rest, when the Torah prohibits work.
“We must not accept a situation in which a worker or business owner is punished for being a Jew who requests to rest on Shabbat,” added the organization.
Economy Minister Aryeh Deri, of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, said that due to an increase in the number of businesses staying open on Shabbat, those who chose to remain closed were forced out of business due to competition.
“I expect that in a year or two, there will be almost no business closed on Shabbat,” he said. “The State of Israel needs to decide whether we work seven days a week and whether we want to wipe out small businesses.”
United Torah Judaism MK Eliezer Menahem Moses joined in the condemnations, saying that it is “a disgrace and shame that in the Jewish state businesses will be required to stay open on Shabbat, when only decades ago Jews gave their lives to close stores [on Shabbat] in spite of government decrees in Europe.”
In Jerusalem, meanwhile, plans to enforce a ban on stores downtown opening on Shabbat drew fire, with at least one business owner vowing to disregard the new ordinance and the head of the left-wing Meretz party claiming discrimination.
The policy, which was planned to come into effect on September 5, was seen as a trade-off for allowing a new Jerusalem cinema complex to operate on Shabbat.