Tel Aviv Mulls New Bylaw to Allow Restricted Shabbat Trading

Interior Minister Gideon Sa’ar nixed municipality’s previous proposal, saying it would let too many stores open. Currently, some 300 shops, kiosks open.

A branch of the AM:PM convenience store chain in Tel Aviv.
Ofer Vaknin

The Tel Aviv municipality will convene in two weeks to discuss a new version of a bylaw allowing supermarkets and kiosks to open on Shabbat.

An earlier attempt at such a bylaw was vetoed by Interior Minister Gideon Sa’ar a month ago. The municipality hopes the new version will meet his approval, but since it would still allow a large number of stores to open all over the city, it’s not clear that the changes will overcome Sa’ar objections.

The first version of the bylaw would have essentially legalized the existing situation, in which some 300 supermarkets and kiosks open regularly on Shabbat. Sa’ar countered that he would permit such businesses to open only in a few key locations around the city, such as the Tel Aviv Port and Hatachana – the Station Compound.

For now, therefore, supermarkets that open on Shabbat are still operating illegally, and city inspectors are supposed to fine them. But no fines were handed out last Shabbat because of the ongoing rocket fire from Gaza.

The new bylaw would divide the city into eight zones and set quotas for how many businesses could open on Shabbat in each zone.

Businesses wanting to open on Shabbat would apply to the municipality for a two-year, nontransferable permit. If there are more applications than the number of permits the city has decided to grant, a lottery will be held to choose the winners.

Nevertheless, the lottery won’t be completely blind. Preference will be given to supermarkets and kiosks located on main streets, or in malls and shopping centers where restaurants and cafes are already operating on Shabbat (restaurants and cafes can do so legally under existing law). Businesses located near a synagogue will not be allowed to open on Shabbat.

In every zone, a quarter of the permits will go to small supermarkets of no more than 200 square meters (2,150 square feet), but which carry a wider variety of products than kiosks or corner groceries.

The municipality claims the new version of the bylaw will preserve the special character of Shabbat. The desire to preserve this character had been one of Sa’ar’s reasons for vetoing the original draft, which, he said, permitted too many stores to open. The new version will reduce the number of businesses open on Shabbat from 260 to 165, the city said.

The new version also states that permits will be granted only to stores of no more than 500 square meters. In the previous version, the ceiling was 800 square meters.

Once the bylaw is approved by the city council, which may make some changes, it will be sent to Sa’ar for approval.