Israeli City Slapping Heavy Fines on Shops Open on Shabbat

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A municipal inspector gives a fine to a shopkeeper in Ashdod for keeping a business open on Saturday.
A municipal inspector gives a fine to a shopkeeper in Ashdod for keeping a business open on Saturday. Credit: Ilan Assayag

The Ashdod municipality toughened its enforcement of Sabbath closure laws on Saturday, levying heavy fines on shops and other businesses that remained open. It was the first time in years that the city had taken such measures and follows the passage last month of a law which gives the interior minister more authority to keep stores closed on Saturday.

On Friday, Ashdod Mayor Yechiel Lasry said a solution was in the works but gave no details.

Ashdod municipal inspectors handed out fines of 320 shekels ($93) to businesses open in the city’s Big Fashion shopping center. Over the past few weeks, inspectors distributed warnings to some 150 businesses in shopping malls. Until now inspectors had refrained from fining businesses inside shopping centers that remained open on Shabbat, targeting only those located outside malls.

Earlier last month, the Knesset passed a law, the so-called Supermarkets Law, which allows the interior minister to prevent the passage of municipal bylaws allowing businesses to stay open on the Sabbath. As the Knesset legislation advanced, municipalities rushed to pass bylaws allowing businesses to operate on the Sabbath. But Interior Minister Arye Dery said these bylaws would not stop him from ordering businesses to shutter on Saturdays.

Posting on his Facebook page Friday, Lasry said that he has been working for the past few weeks on a solution in response to widespread protests in Ashdod against the Sabbath closures. “In the near future I’ll be presenting a broader picture of this complex situation, with the possible solutions.” He wrote that he believed the solutions would show “that Ashdod will be an example of the ability to overcome wide gaps in lifestyle among the city’s various population groups.”

City inspectors inside a mall in Ashdod, where they gave fines to stores that were open on Saturday. Credit: Ilan Assayag

After he published his post, hundreds of residents staged a protest drive through the city, saying that Lasry had not acted firmly enough to find a solution.

Meretz MK Tamar Zandberg said in response that reassurances given by the coalition about the impact of the law were misleading. “The truth is coming out and blowing up in the faces of the people of Ashdod.” Gilad Segev, 32, who owns a shop that sells wallets and belts, said he began receiving warnings four weeks ago and yesterday was slapped with a 320-shekel fine.

“There are customers here, people from Ashdod, who come here only on Saturday,” he said, noting that his income on Saturdays was double or more that of weekdays. “I plan on keeping the store open. From my point of view it’s altogether crazy that people are interfering with other people’s lives and telling them how to live. ”

Last month, about 1,000 residents protested in front of the Ashdod municipality over the city’s intention to close businesses on the Sabbath.

The management of Big Fashion said: “Big Fashion will pay the fines if needed and will pay for legal proceedings, as we have already said and pledged. We can only be astonished for the umpteenth time at the conduct of the city. They come out with declarations of reconciliation and at the same time raise the bar of this intolerable religious coercion.”

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