Israel Reveals 400 Companies With Waivers to Operate on the Sabbath

The roster includes employers like critical-service providers - and a few surprises.

Tali Heruti-Sover.
Tali Heruti-Sover
Ben-Gurion Airport.
Ben-Gurion Airport. Credit: Reuters
Tali Heruti-Sover.
Tali Heruti-Sover

Nearly 400 companies — ranging from high-tech outfits to aviation service providers and a few odd ones like a building firm — have received a waiver to operate on the Sabbath, according to a list long kept secret by the Economy Ministry.

The list, which includes 341 named businesses and 36 anonymous ones involved in classified defense work, was released this week by the ministry after a campaign by the Freedom of Information Movement, which won a court order.

But critics say the real reason was that Arye Dery, who leads the ultra-Orthodox Shas party and became economy minister in the spring, revealed the list in order to embarrass the companies on it. Dery’s office denied this and said he simply decided the time had come to make the list public.

Under Israeli law, companies and government bodies are barred from employing workers on the Sabbath unless they apply for a special waiver that details how many employees are permitted and why. Some exceptions are hospitals and hotels, which receive waivers automatically.

But Sabbath observance is also a political issue, with parties like Shas fighting to ensure that activities banned on the Sabbath, like working or using electricity, are observed in public. This week in Jerusalem, ultra-Orthodox lawmakers vowed to block a new rent-a-bike program from operating on the Sabbath.

“The public discussion over the nature of the Sabbath will be better if we do it based on data and facts,” said Einat Horowitz, the CEO of the Freedom of Information Movement, who said she hoped the ministry would publish the information regularly. “It’s a pity we needed to go to court to get the information,” she said.

The roster includes organizations that provide services 24/7, like the Ashdod and Haifa ports, the Israel Electric Corporation and the Israel Airports Authority. Businesses involved in civil aviation, including airline catering companies and the Eldan rent-a-car office at Ben-Gurion International Airport, all have approval.

A company that provides laundering services for hospitals also received a waiver.

A host of firms also won clearance, including chemical maker Dead Sea Works, Teva Pharmaceutical Industries, fragrance and flavors maker Frutarom and property developer Housing & Construction Ltd., all on the grounds that interrupting production would cause severe financial damage. Intel Israel’s giant semiconductor fabrication plant in Kiryat Gat also has permission.

Other businesses to make the cut are emergency-service providers, including towing companies, cellphone repair centers and help lines. Nespresso Israel, which provides coffee for home and office machines, can work on Shabbat, but only to service hotels.

Two high-tech companies, Imperva and Radware, received clearance because they deal in data security in real time. Bank Leumi got the okay to employ up to 32 people in data security on the Sabbath. Some nonprofit companies also have permission, including an organization that helps youth at risk and Hillel, which helps people who have left Orthodox Judaism.

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