Next Battlefield in Israel's Shabbat Wars: Tel Aviv Suburb of Kfar Sava

The central Israeli town warns apparel stores in the Oshiland mall of legal action if they remain open on the Sabbath

The Oshiland mall in Kfar Sava, Israel.
Eyal Toueg

After municipal inspectors in Ashdod began cracking down on businesses that are open on Shabbat in violation of a local bylaw, merchants selling apparel in Kfar Sava, northeast of Tel Aviv, have been issued warning letters informing them that they cannot operate on the Sabbath.

The warning letters were issued to stores selling clothing and shoes at the Oshiland cinema, food and retail complex in the city, which is open on Shabbat. The law in Israel has generally made a distinction between places of entertainment, such as cinemas, restaurants and museums, which are allowed to remain open, and other retailers that are not. The movie theaters and restaurants at Oshiland did not receive warning letters.

Sent in the name of Kfar Sava municipal prosecutor Israel Bar Sela, the letter said that a tour by municipal inspectors at Oshiland found that there were stores open on the Sabbath in violation of the municipal bylaw, and that the municipal prosecutor’s office intends to take legal action to enforce the bylaw.

The decision to crack down on violators of the bylaw appeared to be the result of the passage of the new Sabbath-closure law by the Knesset that has been dubbed the Minimarkets Law but relates more broadly to retail stores, including clothing stores and home improvement stores open on Shabbat in shopping centers and malls.

The new law also gives the interior minister – Arye Dery of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party – the authority to overrule certain municipal bylaws concerning the Jewish day of rest, but exempts cafes, restaurants and other establishments providing food and drink consumed on the premises. It also permits theaters, movie theaters and clubs to remain open.

The Kfar Sava municipality said the enforcement action is in no way related to the passage of the Minimarkets Law. It also doesn’t represent a change in policy, the city said.

In November 2016, a coalition of independent merchants sued the Kfar Sava municipality, Oshiland and merchants operating on Shabbat, claiming that the city was failing to enforce a 1941 ordinance barring commercial activity on the Sabbath. In response, the city issued citations against Oshira, the company that operates Oshiland, as well as at the nearby G mall complex.

In a statement, the municipality said it would continue to maintain the status quo that has been in place for years and noted the pending lawsuit filed by the independent merchants. “Pursuant to the legal proceedings, the municipality is obligated to carry out this action in accordance with the law,” the statement read.

Last Shabbat in Ashdod, dozens of businesses at shopping centers open on Shabbat received 320 shekel ($93) fines for doing business on the Sabbath.