It's Official: Some Tel Aviv Stores Can Stay Open on Shabbat

Not all grocery stores will be allowed to stay open, but more than desired by former Interior Minister Gideon Sa’ar, a court rules.

Ofer Vaknin

Efforts to have fewer Tel Aviv stores open on the Sabbath failed Tuesday when a court ruled that the Interior Ministry had not given the city a proper hearing to state its case.

In his ruling, Judge Aviyam Barkai of the Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court chastised former Interior Minister Gideon Sa’ar for passing the issue on to his successor, Gilad Erdan.

Sa’ar stepped down last month, saying he was taking a “time-out” from politics, and critics said his stance on the issue was designed to gain favor with religious parties in preparation for a run for the premiership in the future.

Earlier this year, Sa’ar refused to approve a Tel Aviv bylaw that would have awarded Shabbat licenses to 300 small supermarkets, kiosks and convenience stores less than 800 square meters large. Sa’ar preferred a bylaw in which these two numbers would be 164 stores and 500 square meters.

The judge rejected Sa’ar’s statement that the next minister would decide because this exceeded the minister’s legal authority. Barkai also noted that when the minister does not intervene within 60 days, a bylaw goes into effect automatically.

Olivier Fitoussi

The bylaw stipulating 300 stores will thus go into effect in a few weeks when it is officially published. These businesses will be allowed to remain open on Friday nights, Saturdays and Jewish holidays.

The issue heated up in recent years when owners of stores not open on Shabbat claimed they were being undercut by competitors that opened that day in violation of the law — and the municipality was doing nothing about it.

The Supreme Court accepted this position more than a year ago, noting that the laws on keeping businesses closed on Shabbat were not being followed.

For his part, Sa’ar said the 300-store bylaw compromised Israel’s values as a Jewish and democratic state.

“It damages the democratic component by creating contempt for the principle of the rule of law .... It damages the Jewish component by harming the national and social character of Shabbat, which is a component of the public space,” he wrote.

According to Sa’ar, “Preserving the character of Shabbat and its special nature by reducing commerce in the city is an important interest of the Israeli public in general and the Jewish public in its own country in particular.”

Sa’ar did favor letting stores stay open in areas including the Tel Aviv and Jaffa ports, the Old Train Station Complex and convenience stores at gas stations.

In any case, the new permits are personal and nontransferable. They will be valid for two years and be issued according to area quotas. Forty-five permits will go to businesses in Tel Aviv’s Old North, 42 downtown, 13 in the eastern neighborhoods and 12 in Jaffa, which is part of the municipality.

In each area only a quarter of permits will be reserved for bigger stores with a large variety of products. If demand for permits exceeds the quota, a raffle will determine the recipients. If local businesses wish it, stores will take turns possessing a permit.

Also, the mayor will be able to veto a permit if a business is near a synagogue or religious neighborhood.