Shabbat Protest Against Forced Shop Closures Planned for Jerusalem

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Haredim in Jerusalem protest against Shabbat desecration, July 2011.Credit: Daniel Bar-On

Groups promoting pluralism in Jerusalem are planning a large event in the downtown area on Saturday, September 12, in response to the municipality’s decision to close groceries and snack shops now open on the Jewish day of rest.

On Thursday secular movements in the city will be demonstrating against the city’s decision to close the downtown stores, which was made after the municipality’s legal adviser, Eli Malka, called for strict enforcement of the city bylaws against commercial activity in places like the city center.

The Shabbat event, organized by the Yeru-Shalem coalition, will take place near the Alma Café. Organizers say they will not allow it to turn into a block party, but there will be an acoustic performance and sound system, and hundreds are expected to attend.

According to a legal opinion issued recently by Prof. Aviad Cohen, dean of the Sha’arei Mishpat Law School, there is no legal barrier to holding such a “happening” and it meets the conditions of the law and the status quo in the capital.

“So long as we’re talking about an educational-cultural event (and not a commercial-business one), which is aimed at giving public expression to a broad population that lives in Jerusalem, one that seeks to experience Shabbat in its own way, according to its lifestyle and beliefs, the police is obligated to – not just permitted to – allow the event to take place,” said Cohen, who is himself religious.

“Because it’s clear that this is a power struggle by the Haredi sector, it’s important now that the secular public stand up for itself regarding things that are really important, and what is really important is culture and not commerce,” said Elisheva Mazya, a member of Yeru-Shalem’s steering committee and director of the Ruah Hadasha (New Spirit) association.

Yeru-Shalem and the Yerushalmit movement have been organizing events for families on Shabbat for several years, and they have been very successful, but until now were held in secular neighborhoods, far from Haredi areas, and generated no protests. The September 12 event will be the first of its kind in the downtown area, walking distance from heavily Haredi neighborhoods, and is expected to draw Haredi protests.

“There’s a statement here that instead of dealing with what is forbidden to do on Shabbat, perhaps it’s time to discuss what can be done on Shabbat, in the family, in the community, in culture,” said Tehila Friedman, a member of Yeru-Shalem’s steering committee. “For me as a religious person it’s important for Shabbat to be a day of rest, but I understand that secular people have different values regarding Shabbat and I understand that they have a place in Jerusalem.”

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