Jerusalem Store Owners Take Shabbat Opening Issue to Court

Under the capital's new program, day of rest laws will be enforced strictly in the city center, which has been defined as a religious area.

Michal Fattal

Grocery store owners in Jerusalem have filed a court petition against the city's municipality and Mayor Nir Barkat over a recent decision to outlaw commercial activity in the city center on Saturdays.

The petitioners argue that municipality's legal adviser did not have the authority to make the decision and that the procedure was improper and inappropriate.

Sensitive decisions that affect religious-secular relations and could change the status quo should be taken by the municipal council and should not be what amounts to a technical decision, the petitioners argue.

The decision was made in August. According to attorney Eli Malcha, the city's legal adviser, the municipality was compelled to state a clear policy on the enforcement of laws pertaining to the day of rest in order to preempt intervention by the courts.

In terms of the decision, the city will be divided into areas based on population type, in some of which the law will not be enforced stringently while in others it will.

Parts of the city center are defined as having a religious character in the proposal and will thus be subject to stringent enforcement of the law.

The plan is scheduled to take effect in April.

According to attorney Yossi Habilo, representing the petitioners, the decision will cause great harm to the grocery stores, the city's residents and visitors. Barkat, he added, stands behind the decision, because he wants to fully enforce the day of rest laws, including in neighborhoods that are not religious.

The petition was filed after the complaints of the grocery store owners were rejected at a municipal hearing.

"The decision violates decades of status quo and constitutes religious coercion and the right not to be religious," Habilo said.

"Nir Barkat has capitulated to the ultra-Orthodox for political reasons, in the process doing harm to thousands of Jerusalem residents who voted for him.

"Given that the city center is not a religious or Haredi area but an entertainment and commercial area, the decision is contrary to the High Court decision regarding the balance between the freedom not to be religious and offending religious feelings."