Israeli Municipality Indicts Two Local Malls That Open on Shabbat

Follows complaints of unfair competition by dozens of Kfar Sava business owners who close on Saturday

Oshiland Mall in Kfar Sava.
Eyal Toueg

The Kfar Sava municipality has filed indictments against the managers of two malls that operate commercial stores on Shabbat. The indictments were filed last month after an appeal against the opening of the stores on Shabbat by dozens of business owners in the city. The municipality claimed that it would take action against the stores, but actually waited six months before doing so.

The Oshiland Mall opened in July and changed the status quo in the city. “You’re invited to come on Friday and Shabbat, between 10 a.m. and 11 p.m. and simply to purchase experiences,” according to the advertisements on social networks. As opposed to malls in Herzliya and Rishon Letzion, the malls in Kfar Sava were closed on Shabbat until now, and the only commerce was in a small number of chain stores in nearby G Mall, even though the city is mostly secular, with a religious population of only 15 percent.

The municipality noted in the indictment against Oshira, which operates Oshiland, that 18 places of business were open on Shabbat, saying that the business owners and mall managers were violating the bylaw requiring that they be closed on Shabbat, and that in the future the stores themselves and not only the management companies would be held to account.

On Monday the appeal was discussed in the Lod District Court, and business owners demanded that the city enforce the bylaws. They claim that opening the mall on Shabbat has harmed their livelihood and caused business inequality, while emphasizing that it’s not a religious issue.

The municipality claimed that it enforces the law against business owners who open on Shabbat by sending notices and warnings, and if necessary with fines and indictments. But in fact the city didn’t enforce the law until January, half a year after the mall opened. Then it sent warnings to businesses before filing the indictments.

The attorney representing the appellants claimed that the municipality is guilty of under-enforcement and that the court should instruct it to enforce the law. He claimed that only after the appeal did the municipality begin to take steps against the businesses open on Shabbat. Judge Zahava Bustan has postponed the discussion by three months.

The bylaw in Kfar Sava dates from 1941, and includes outdated instructions to the effect that stores cannot be opened on Tuesdays from 2 p.m. or on Thursdays from 9 p.m., and prohibits commerce on Shabbat. The city claimed that the law is archaic and doesn’t suit modern consumption and entertainment habits, and if the municipality were to enforce the law, Kfar Sava would be paralyzed.

Judge Bustan also criticized the bylaw and suggested that it be adapted to modern life.

The municipality added that it values Shabbat as a day of rest sacred to the Jewish people, the State of Israel and the residents of Kfar Sava, which must be observed and preserved, along with democracy and the status quo in the city.

The owner of a long-established children’s clothing store in the city complained about the opening of the mall, saying the city is doing the minimum for the sake of appearances, and that there is no guarantee it will enforce the closing of the stores on Shabbat permanently. She said she has been observing the bylaw for years, but has discovered that she is more law-abiding than the municipality.

The Oshiland Mall, owned by businessman Sami Katsav, opened in July. It’s a large shopping center covering 34,000 square meters in the Atir Yeda industrial zone in southeast Kfar Sava, near Highway 6. It includes a large number of stores, bakeries, a food court with restaurants and cafes, and attractions for children. The issue of the opening and closing of businesses on Shabbat is determined by the local authorities. The law in Israel empowers them to legislate bylaws and to issue instructions regarding the opening and closing of businesses under their jurisdiction on days of rest.

There was no response from the Oshiland Mall.