Bill Closing All Stores on Sabbath Gets Israeli Government's Go-ahead

Bill is meant to replace the municipal bylaws prohibiting Shabbat openings, and it provides for substantial increases in the fines for violators.

Shopping on the Sabbath in Israel.
Alex Levac

The Ministerial Committee on Legislation on Sunday approved Likud MK Miki Zohar’s bill prohibiting grocery stores and other businesses from operating from Friday sundown to Saturday after sundown.

But before the session, heads of the coalition parties agreed that after the measure goes to the Knesset for a preliminary reading, the legislative process will be suspended until a special committee of directors-general from the relevant government ministries completes its work. The panel will discuss a proposal to ban Shabbat openings and gradually adding Sunday as an additional day of rest.

Zohar’s bill is meant to replace the municipal bylaws prohibiting Shabbat openings, and it provides for substantial increases in the fines for violators. It would not apply to restaurants, gas stations or hotels, but only to grocery and other stores, as well as shopping malls. It would give the economy minister, and not local governments, the authority to issue limited exemptions to the prohibition.

The economy minister would be responsible for appointing inspectors, who would have the authority to issue fines to scofflaws.

The committee, comprising the directors general of the justice, finance and religious affairs ministries, was appointed after the High Court of Justice found that the Tel Aviv bylaw banning businesses from operating on Shabbat was not being enforced and called on the state to change the law.

Former Interior Minister Gideon Sa’ar had intended to exercise its authority to force the closure of supermarkets in Tel Aviv on Shabbat, but did not, and the task fell to his successor, Silvan Shalom, who recused himself from taking on the issue due to a conflict of interest (and resigned yesterday over allegations of sexual harassment). Now it’s the turn of the directors-general committee to issue recommendations on the matter. It has also been tasked with discussing the possibility of making Sunday an additional day of rest on the national level, as a counterweight to stricter enforcement of the ban on Shabbat openings.