Tel Aviv Enshrines Shabbat Status Quo in Law, Finally

Businesses can continue opening on day of rest, legally at long last.

Eight months after the Supreme Court ordered it to either enforce its bylaws or amend them, the Tel Aviv municipality finally proposed an amendment that partially overturns its previous ban on commercial activity on Shabbat and holidays.

Essentially, the new bylaw legalizes the de facto situation of the past several years. It lets grocery stores and kiosks open on Shabbat, but imposes limits on how many such institutions can open on each street. In addition, any type of business will be able to open on Shabbat in three specified locations: Tel Aviv Port, Jaffa Port and Hatachana D — the New Station compound.

The bylaw was approved by the city’s executive yesterday and will be brought to the city council for approval at its next meeting.

The old bylaw allowed cafes to open on Shabbat and holidays, but not bars or ice-cream shops. The new bylaw cancels this restriction. It also cancels the limits on operating hours imposed by the old law; businesses can now stay open from 10 A.M. until whenever they please. The only exception is Yom Kippur, when commercial activity will still be prohibited.

The bylaw authorizes the mayor to set licensing conditions for businesses seeking to open on Shabbat, “to preserve the quality of the environment or to prevent nuisances.” Businesses will have to renew their permits for Shabbat activity annually.

Mayor Ron Huldai noted that the old bylaw was enacted 34 years ago and needed to be updated to match the city’s current reality. This reality dictates that most commercial activity should still be prohibited on Shabbat, to preserve “the social value of the Jewish state’s day of rest,” he said. But at the same time, he added, it’s important “to enable everyone to enjoy Shabbat as he pleases,” and the city therefore sought to enable “a variety of cultural, entertainment and leisure activities.”

“The delicate balance that we tried to enshrine in the bylaw reflects, above all, the Tel Aviv spirit of tolerance ... a city that enables everyone to live his own lifestyle and express himself as he pleases, and which realizes in practice Herzl’s vision of a free state for the Jews,” Huldai said.

Deputy Mayor Asaf Zamir said the city had surveyed every street to find out how many businesses are open on Shabbat and discovered that there were about 300. This number will remain about the same under the new bylaw, he said.

The new bylaw will be in effect for five years, after which it will be reevaluated, he added.

Eyal Toueg