Rabbis to Mull Approval of Shefa Shuk Sale to Rami Levy

Committee for the Sanctity of Shabbat has no power to decide anything on behalf of David Wiessman.

The rabbinical Committee for the Sanctity of Shabbat will be convening in the next few days to make its final decision on whether it approves David Wiessman's sale of Shefa Shuk grocery outlets, which serve the ultra-Orthodox community. More specifically, the panel will be deciding whether a change of ownership would affect the chain's pariah status in the observant community.

The Committee for the Sanctity of Shabbat, of course, has no power to decide anything on behalf of Wiessman. However, any decision it makes on the chain's status will have direct repercussion on Shefa Shuk's relations with its ultra-Orthodox clientele.

Two weeks ago the committee informally publicized its intention to continue to boycott any bidder on the Shefa Shuk chain, thus have a hand in allowing Wiessman to continue operating his AM:PM convenience store chain on the Sabbath.

The ultra-Orthodox boycott on Dudi Wiessman's Dor Alon group of companies, which includes the Blue Square and Shefa Shuk grocery chains, was launched three months ago after the rabbinical committee issued a directive ordering the ultra-Orthodox community not to do business with Wiessman.

At this stage no directive has been issued against acquisition of the branches, but the committee has reiterated it will do so shortly if Wiessman refuses to stop operating AM:PM branches on Saturdays.

A number of potential bidders for the nine Shefa Shuk outlets operating in ultra-Orthodox communities have been mentioned. The main bid has come from Rami Levy, owner of the Rami Levy Shivuk Hashikma grocery chain. Other names rumored to be potential buyers include two ultra-Orthodox businessmen from the U.S., and Zakai Shalom, who owns the Hatsi Hinam chain of discount stores.

Intensive discussions have been conducted over recent days between Rami Levi and the rabbinical committee, with the intention of reaching an agreement on terms of sale terms acceptable to the committee, possibly through a share swap.

And as the rabbinical committee continues to review the issue, the ultra-Orthodox community itself is divided: the Gur hassidic community is leaning toward a continued boycott of the Shefa Shuk, even if the chain is sold to a third, Sabbath-observing party. Others maintain that the ultra-Orthodox community may use the chain if Wiessman sells the branches, even if it allows him to continue to operate the AM:PM chain.

Sources say that the rabbinical committee has apparently already decided not to give its stamp of approval to any deal that entails Wiessman's continued involvement in the operation.

A source close to Rami Levy said that if the rabbinical committee decides that it has no objection to the deal being negotiated with Wiessman, it will be consummated. The deal reputedly includes acquisition of the nine Shefa Shuk outlets located in ultra-Orthodox communities in a share swap deal involving 15.5% to 16% of Rami Levy Shivuk Hashikma plus cash payment.

"If the rabbis approve the deal - and there is no reason why they shouldn't - negotiations will continue. Such a transaction will do the ultra-Orthodox community only good, since it will increase competition within the sector. In addition, Levy is someone who does not and will not do business on the Sabbath" the source said.

The Blue Square grocery chain declined to comment.