Live and Let Live

The ultra-Orthodox public's representatives had better listen to the Supreme Court's message and not try to coerce their way of life on the residents of Tel Aviv

“Live and let live,” wrote outgoing Supreme Court President Justice Miriam Naor in the verdict she chose to read in her retirement ceremony – the verdict in which the High Court of Justice endorsed the bylaw allowing opening businesses on Shabbat in Tel Aviv.

These words ended a 10-year legal struggle, meant to prevent opening mini-markets and kiosks on the day of rest. The struggle began as a result of Tel Aviv’s grocery owners’ desire to protect their livelihood, but over the years it became a confrontation between secular and religious communities as well.

This was echoed in the rendering of the decision: Five secular justices supported upholding the bylaw, while two religious justices thought it should be revoked and that opening businesses on the Sabbath must be banned.

Despite this, the retiring Supreme Court president made it clear that the verdict does not reflect a secular or religious viewpoint, but a correct interpretation of the law, which grants the municipality autonomy in all matters pertaining to shaping life in the city. The bylaw passed by Tel Aviv’s city council, Naor explained, balances between the right to equality and freedom of religion, and the freedom of occupation and freedom of conscience.

“The balance doesn’t favor one worldview over the other,” Naor wrote, stressing that it does not reduce the Sabbath’s status and importance. “It means that alongside the protection of the Sabbath’s unique character, every individual must be able to shape his Sabbath according to his way and according to his beliefs, and to fill it with content as he sees fit.”

The incoming Supreme Court president, Justice Esther Hayut, emphasized that there’s no justification for Interior Minister Arye Dery’s fear that the verdict would infringe on the Sabbath’s character nationwide. She noted that the bylaw is proportionate and reasonable. Dery, for his part, hastened to attack the Supreme Court and accused it of carrying out a coup. Even before the verdict was made public, United Torah Judaism MK Moshe Gafni drafted a proposal intended to neutralize it and to enable the interior minister to close down Tel Aviv on Shabbat.

Instead of looking for ways to bypass the court, the ultra-Orthodox public’s representatives had better listen to the message the court conveyed and not try to coerce their way of life on the residents of Tel Aviv, a city with an overtly secular character.