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The Tel Aviv Municipality made an unprecedented decision yesterday in its interpretation of the law governing the fast day of Tisha B'Av (Ninth of Av) that bans any "entertainment hall" from being open to the public on the day. Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai decided on Thursday to instruct city inspectors not to fine proprietors of restaurants, bars and cafes who chose to open their doors to the public on Tisha B'Av.

Tisha B'Av commemorates the destruction of the First and Second Jewish Temples built on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.

In practice, the decision us expected to have little impact on the city of Tel Aviv, since proprietors regular open their businesses to the public on Tisha B'Av, in spite of the fines issued by city inspectors.

Following a request by the city's deputy mayor, Michael Ro'eh (Meretz), the legal counselor of the municipality, Ahaz Ben-Ari, reviewed the law governing Tisha B'Av and public establishments and decided that it only applies to "entertainment halls." According to Ben Ari, the term "entertainment halls" refers to theaters, cinemas, discos and the like, but does not apply to cafes, restaurants or bars.

As a result of the legal interpretation, Huldai decided to issue instructions to inspectors not to fine establishments that fall into the categories listed above.

"This decision is not a call to the public to undermine the holiness of Tisha B'Av or the traditions of Israel," Huldai said, emphasizing that he was not making an ideological or political statement, but merely conforming to the practical reality according to the law.

The decision, however, sparked a series of protests from the religious community. Tel Aviv's deputy mayor, Rabbi Natan Elnatan (Shas), threatened Friday to initiate a crisis in the coalition government of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon if Huldai did not rescind his decision; while Interior Minister Eli Yishai (Shas) instructed the legal office of his ministry to examine whether the Tel Aviv Municipality was within its legal bounds to issue such a decision.

"Instead of using the day to conduct a social dialogue and make a connection with Jewish history, the municipality chose to turn it into a religious or legal issue and instigate a controversy," said Deputy Foreign Minister Rabbi Michael Melchior (Meimad). "Apparently, the Tel Aviv Municipality does not think that the residents of the city need to know about the destruction of the Temple, about the Diaspora and the uprising; and in its attitude, it is separate the city from the rest of the country."

MK Yossi Paritzky (Shinui), on the other hand, applauded Huldai "for proving that Tel Aviv-Jaffa is a city that never sleeps and is devoid of [religious] coercion. I hope that the rest of the mayors will follow in the footsteps of Huldai, who understood that the manner in which an individual acts must be the decision of the private citizen and not the authorities."