Israel's Religious Parties Blast High Court’s Ruling to Keep Tel Aviv Stores Open on Sabbath

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A supermarket in Tel Aviv.
A supermarket in Tel Aviv.Credit: Eliran Rubin

The right-wing Habayit Hayehudi party has demanded an urgent meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu following the High Court of Justice’s approval of a bylaw letting stores open on the Sabbath in Tel Aviv.

The municipal bylaw allows the opening on Shabbat of some 250 businesses, two-thirds of them groceries and convenience stores and the rest located in commercial centers.

Habayit Hayehudi, a religious-Zionist party, has the support of the ultra-Orthodox parties against the High Court ruling. Education Minister Naftali Bennett and Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel made the demand in a letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“We neither intend to nor can be partners to inflicting harm on the Sabbath and crushing it underfoot as emerges de facto from the High Court ruling,” they wrote.

Bennett and Ariel also said the ruling constituted a serious breach of the status quo. Their call for a discussion stems from the “acknowledgement of the importance of the Sabbath” and the fact that the status quo is “an inseparable part of the coalition agreement to which we are all obligated.”

Interior Minister Arye Dery of the ultra-Orthodox party Shas has also slammed the High Court ruling, saying he aimed to strike down the bylaw. “The High Court ruling is a harsh blow against the holy Sabbath and the character of the Jewish people,” he said, adding: “We will work by any means possible to restore the status quo.”

In a separate letter to Netanyahu, Dery also demanded a meeting with the prime minister. He also wrote to Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit demanding another High Court hearing with an expanded bench.

Dery has thus far never provided his own official decision on the bylaw neither did three recent interior ministers: Gilad Erdan, Silvan Shalom and Gideon Sa’ar.

Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, whose Yisrael Beiteinu party draws many votes from secular Russian-speaking Israelis, wrote on Facebook that he welcomed the court decision. The bylaw would “on the one hand let the Sabbath be kept as a day of rest, and on the other hand would allow a great many people the possibility of enjoying the Sabbath in their own way,” he wrote.

As Lieberman put it, “Tel Aviv has had a certain character since the establishment of the state, and there is no reason the state should interfere and harm the fabric of the city as it has developed.”

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