Israeli Lawmaker Drafts New Shabbat Bill but ultra-Orthodox Vow to Veto It

Miki Zohar’s bill would permit opening of commercial centers on Saturday afternoons, limited public transport on Friday and the Sabbath.

A shopping mall in Israel. Cohen argues that an additional weekend day will translate into more purchases.
Nir Keidar

MK Miki Zohar (Likud) has drawn up a new version of a controversial Shabbat bill he withdrew six months ago because his coalition colleagues opposed it. While the previous bill had categorically forbidden groceries, shops and commercial centers from opening on Shabbat, the new version is expected to permit the opening of commercial centers and certain stores from the afternoon hours.

In addition, the bill would permit local governments to operate limited public transportation on Friday nights and throughout Shabbat.

United Torah Judaism has made it clear it will oppose the new version of the bill because it undermines the long-standing status quo.

The new version was formulated with MK Rachel Azaria (Kulanu), who had spearheaded coalition opposition to the previous version, along with opposition MKs Manuel Trajtenberg (Zionist Union) and Elazar Stern (Yesh Atid).

The current law permits the opening of cultural institutions, and leisure and recreation spots on Shabbat. Under the new law, cultural institutions would have to make provisions for people to pay for activities before Shabbat.

Local governments would be allowed to permit the limited openings of grocery stores and pharmacies in their jurisdictions. Industrial and commercial zones would be permitted to operate only starting late Shabbat afternoon. Plant nurseries, art galleries, convenience stores, restaurants and cafes would be permitted to open.

Coalition parties have veto rights over any bill that changes the status quo on issues of religion and state, and United Torah Judaism’s opposition will probably scuttle the initiative.

Zohar bemoaned UTJ’s stance, calling it “unfortunate” and one that “will cause weeping for generations.” He added that “the new law will be a unique opportunity to save Shabbat, since the status quo in this regard was violated long ago.”