Israeli Plant Nurseries Warned to Close on Shabbat or Face Big Fines

'All the employees who work here on Shabbat do so by choice,' says employee. 'We take days off at other times during the week, and that’s how we want it to stay.'

Almog Ben Zikri
Almog Ben Zikri
Employees at the Saloner Nursery on Moshav Sitriya would prefer to continue working on Shabbat.
Employees at the Saloner Nursery on Moshav Sitriya would prefer to continue working on Shabbat.Credit: Moti Milrod
Almog Ben Zikri
Almog Ben Zikri

Numerous plant nurseries that are open on Shabbat have recently been ordered by the Economy Ministry to close on the Jewish day of rest or risk being fined hundreds of thousands of shekels.

One nursery owner in the south told Haaretz that 22 plant nurseries have formed a committee to try to fight the notices. Eighty percent of these nurseries have either received warning letters or are having hearings with the ministry.

The Saloner Nursery on Moshav Sitriya near Ramle was one of the businesses to receive a warning letter. Tsipi Saloner, who has been running the nursery with her husband Brian for 30 years, said that they had long had an unspoken agreement with the authorities regarding their Saturday activity. Representatives of the Economy Ministry came to the nursery and asked to speak to the employees and review the company’s records, she says. A few months later the warning letter arrived.

According to Saloner, the nursery does 30 percent of its business on Shabbat, but stressed that she was concerned not only for her business, but for the future of the sector.

“I don’t see this solely as a commercial business,” she said. “At our nursery there are courses and activities that teach the families who come here on Shabbat about agronomy. It’s an entire cultural world and the state should relate to it that way.”

The Saloner Nursery on Moshav Sitriya.Credit: Moti Milrod

The Saloners employ 40 people, among them Galit Or and Atara Keinon. Recently the workers banded together to try to contest the decision by the Economy Ministry which they see as destroying their livelihood. “All the employees who work here on Shabbat do so by choice,” said Or. “We take days off at other times during the week, and that’s how we want it to stay.” She noted that if they do not work on Shabbat, their salaries will be significantly reduced.

Nurseries, which are considered commercial enterprises, are not permitted to employ Jews on Shabbat. The recently formed committee is trying to lobby the ministry to make plant nurseries an exception to the Work and Rest Law. Yanai Saloner, son of Tsipi and Brian, who has been working in the nursery for several years, said that while he’s skeptical about the chance of success, he is determined to pursue the struggle.

“I know there’s no chance of changing the law itself, and that’s not what we want,” he said. “We want the Economy Ministry to recognize the moral, social and cultural value that nurseries have in Israel.”

Tsipi Saloner said that the Economy Ministry told her the only solution would be to employ non-Jews on Shabbat, but she doesn’t see that as realistic.

“There are no replacements for people like Galit and Atara; they aren’t just salespeople; they are professionals,” she said. “Their knowledge, kindness and love for agronomy can’t be found in temporary workers that I would bring here just on Saturdays.”

The Economy and Industry Ministry said, “The law has been enforced for years against a variety of businesses all over the country and there has been no policy change. The [Saloner] nursery was not fined, but warned that it was violating the law. If during the next audit the business will not meet the conditions of the law, it will be fined.

“The law does not forbid businesses to be open on Shabbat, but to employ workers on their weekly day of rest, which for Jews is Shabbat, and for non-Jews, according to their faith. It isn’t clear why a decision by a business to violate the law and harm workers is legitimate.”

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