Hundreds of non-Jews to Enforce Shabbat Shop Closures, ultra-Orthodox Lawmaker Says

'We are not only guardians of the status quo, we are also promoting Shabbat observance,' the lawmaker said

A mini-market in Tel Aviv, Israel. Earlier this month Israel passed a bill that bans most stores from operating on Shabbat.
A mini-market in Tel Aviv, Israel. Earlier this month Israel passed a bill that bans most stores from operating on Shabbat.Credit: David Bachar

Hundreds of non-Jewish inspectors will enforce laws on closing businesses on Shabbat, MK Moshe Gafni (United Torah Judaism) has said. Gafni made the remarks at a conference, the ultra-Orthodox website Kikar Hashabbat and the Israel Television News Company reported Monday.

There was an agreement with the prime minister and thats whats going to be, Gafni said, speaking at a conference of the United Hatzalah of Israel emergency medical service aid organization, adding theres a big problem enforcing the laws. He was referring to a recently passed law, known as the Supermarkets Law that allows the interior minister to repeal future municipal bylaws allowing grocery stores to remain open on the Jewish Sabbath.

The Interior Ministry currently lacks the authority to enforce the Labor and Rest Hours Law, governing when businesses may open. About two months ago, heads of the ultra-Orthodox parties in the Knesset reached an agreement with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu under which enforcement duties would be shared by inspectors from the interior and labor ministries. A bill on the issue drawn up by the Interior Ministry has not been advanced.

According to Gafni, hundreds on non-Jewish employees of the Interior Ministrys Population, Immigration and Border Authority will enforce Shabbat closures. The Interior Ministry has hundreds, maybe even more, of inspectors that deal with infiltrators, and [these inspectors] are non-Jews, Gafni said, adding that the positive and essential enforcement will begin within two months.

Under Jewish law, a Jew cannot be forced to work on Shabbat, necessitating the use of non-Jewish inspectors.

We are not only guardians of the status quo, we are also promoting Shabbat observance, Gafni said, adding that the new law would make it difficult for a future interior minister who, in contrast to Interior Minister Arye Dery, might not be religiously observant, to approve municipal bylaws allowing stores to open on Shabbat.

In a response, the border agency said it was surprised by Gafnis remarks and that there is no feasible way for its inspectors to enforce Shabbat closure laws. The idea had been broached in the past but was quickly dismissed, the authority said, adding that it did not in fact employ hundreds of non-Jewish inspectors and could not reassign inspectors to Shabbat enforcement duties. The agency said it was busy hiring employees to help to deport or arrest asylum seekers.

For decades there has been a status quo arrangement between Israels religious and nonobservant communities for businesses and public transportation not to operate on Shabbat, from sundown Friday to after sundown Saturday. In recent years a growing number of businesses, specifically grocery stores, have begun opening on Shabbat.

Tensions between the two communities have also been on the rise, especially as the ultra-Orthodox population swells.

A secular interior minister, Gafni told his audience, would now have to prove there is a need for a business to remain open.

Gafni said he had consulted legal experts on the matter, and that now, Technically, a secular interior minister cant abolish or approve a bylaw with the stroke of a pen.

Gafni also boasted, according to the speech which was recorded, that many ritual baths and synagogues had been built in communities that are not ultra-Orthodox. There is no community today without a synagogue; there are places where there are ritual baths where no ultra-Orthodox person has ever set foot. We are in places where we have our own schoolsplaces we didnt know we could get into with some 400 to 450 girls and boys and there was no connection in the past to the Haredi public.

Last month the Knesset passed a number of laws that were part of an agreement meant to resolve a coalition crisis with the ultra-Orthodox parties.

This government depends on the two ultra-Orthodox parties in its coalition to keep its majority in the Knesset.

After the vote on the Supermarkets Law, Dery, who helped draft the legislation, said The passing of the law is not a Haredi victory. It is protection of the status quo. According to the orthodox website Behadrei Haredim, Dery said two months ago that we know many Jews work in malls on the Sabbath since they know inspectors only give out small fines — we will change this by legislation. The interior minister will have the authority and the inspectors from the Population Authority will enforce it with heftier fines.

Last year, the Knesset passed an amendment to Labor and Rest Hours Law that requires the labor minister to take Jewish tradition into consideration when granting work permits on the Sabbath.

In the meantime the city of Ashdod was recruiting inspectors who will, among other duties, enforce a municipal bylaw forcing businesses to remain closed on the Sabbath. The city put out a bid for eight such inspectors, with a specification that Saturday was not the day of rest of any applicant.

The city has recently taken steps to shut down businesses around the city on Saturdays. It has issued warnings in several locations to businesses which had been open on the Sabbath until now, despite the bylaw prohibiting this. In recent years the municipality has been subject to opposing pressure from ultra-Orthodox and secular residents, trying to formulate its policy. There were criteria for opening businesses based on proximity to neighborhoods and the size of a business, but a court ruled that this was unacceptable selective enforcement. The court ordered the city to change its bylaws so as to reflect the changes the city had undergone in recent years, while meeting the needs of all sectors in the city. Other groups tried to have the city enforce its bylaws more vigorously and not allow any businesses to remain open on the Sabbath. In a demonstration held last Saturday night, residents demanded that the city leave open businesses that were already operating on the Sabbath.

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