Jerusalem Municipality Ups Enforcement Against Convenience Stores Open on Shabbat

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Israeli police break up a demonstration by Ultra-Orthodox Jews against the desecration of the Sabbath in central Jerusalem on August 15, 2015. Credit: AFP

Eight supermarkets and snack shops in Jerusalem that are open on Saturday could be closed down by a decision of the Jerusalem municipality legal adviser, following a High Court of Justice ruling on the opening of Tel Aviv supermarkets on Shabbat.

Last Saturday, the new Yes Planet movie theater complex and a large coffee shop opened in downtown Jerusalem. Sources in the municipality denied any connection between the possible closing down of the food shops and the opening of the movie theaters and coffee shop.

According to the status quo in Jerusalem and the city bylaws, which have been confirmed by the courts, places of entertainment and restaurants can remain open in the city on Shabbat, but regular commercial businesses cannot. In recent years a number of supermarkets and snack shops have opened, mainly downtown, and some have been the scene of protests by the ultra-Orthodox.

The municipality’s legal adviser, Eli Malka, recently decided that in some areas of Jerusalem the law would be less strictly enforced and businesses could remain open – areas including weekend tourist draws Ein Karem and Talpiot, and the secular neighborhoods in southwestern Jerusalem, including Kiryat Hayovel. In other areas, including the city center, the area of the government offices and the Knesset, and of course the Jewish Quarter and the ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods, the law would be more aggressively enforced.

Malka’s decision was reported for the first time on Thursday on Army Radio.

Jerusalem Deputy Mayor Yossi Deitch also denied any connection between the opening of the movie theaters and the coffee shop and a decision to close the businesses. “Anything that contravenes the city bylaws must be closed. The time has come to act according to the law. I don’t think anyone is doing us a favor or paying us for Yes Planet,” he said.

According to Deitch, “The public space in Jerusalem is getting a secular atmosphere on Shabbat. It’s gotten to the point where we can’t sit idly by. Jerusalem is not Tel Aviv or Haifa, don’t look for another identity for Jerusalem.”

The mayor’s bureau said that the process began with the High Court decision and that it had nothing to do with the opening of the theater complex, and that the arrangement for closing the eight supermarkets and snack shops had been formulated a month ago.

The Jerusalem municipality said in response: “There is no change in the law and the status quo that has been in force for years in Jerusalem, by which movie theaters, places of entertainment and restaurants can remain open and commercial premises and public transportation cannot. The High Court ruling regarding the opening of supermarkets in Tel Aviv states that the local authority must determine a policy of enforcement of no commerce on Shabbat. Therefore the municipality’s legal adviser instructed that various areas be defined in the city where enforcement would be reduced and areas in which enforcement would be increased.

“It is noted that the issue is not relevant to the Arab neighborhoods,” the statement continued. “It is important to stress that in keeping with the law and the status quo, activities of places of entertainment, restaurants and movie theaters will remain open as usual. This is about eight supermarkets out of hundreds of businesses open on Shabbat.”

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