Following the opening of a new wing in the mall, the management has decided to keep the entire shopping center open seven days a week and is trying to get all stores to adapt to the new situation.
The mall's CEO, Danny Turkenitz, sent a letter to all business owners, explaining the importance of the move and asking them to "reply to this email with a confirmation that you will be opening your store starting Saturday, December 10, 2011."
In the letter, published last week on Kol Hai Radio, Danny Turkenitz claimed that many customers "are thirsty to shop" on the day of rest and are looking for a place to entertain their children on cold winter days. He added that a new playground built ahead of the Shabbat opening was attracting many people.
"We thought it right to open the mall's stores on Saturday morning as well," he noted. "We are certain that such a move is a strategic one for the mall in general and for your stores in particular, and therefore we are informing you about it in advance in order to allow you to get organized…
"It's important to remember that the more shops we open, the greater the chances of this move to succeed!"
The letter concluded by requiring each business owner to confirm that he plans to open his store on Shabbat, and if not – to explain why.
'Taking advantage of Judaism'
Yaakov Halperin, CEO of the Halperin Optics chain, which operates a store in Kanyon Hazahav, slammed the initiative in a conversation with Ynet.
"It's unthinkable that the mall manager is virtually forcing me to open my store on Shabbat, while implying in his letter that I could be responsible for the mall's failure. He's giving me the feeling that I have to do it, although it's not an emergency, just 'customers' thirst' to shop on Shabbat of all days, as he puts it."
Halperin mentioned his late father – the chain's founder, Rabbi Rafael Halperin – noting that he was one of the biggest fighters for the sanctity of Shabbat. The son stressed, however, that the fight was not just a religious one, but also an economic and social battle.
According to Halperin, when he first opened the store Kanyon Hazahav did not operate on Shabbat, and the new situation gives his competitors an advantage. Now he plans to demand a relative reduction in rent and management fees.
"I don't know the mall's CEO, but he's making store workers feel that they must work on Shabbat – otherwise they'll be fired," Halperin added. "It hurts me that he's taking advantage of Judaism, which forbids working on Shabbat, in order to attract people who don't work to shop, and making others work more against their will."
According to Halperin, in the entire Western world workers are entitled to a day of rest, even though they live in non-religious countries.
A religious source in the Rishon Lezion Municipality criticized the decision to open the mall on Shabbat, claiming that the change in status-quo was a slippery slope which could damage the gentle fabric of relations between the religious and secular populations.
He called on the religious representatives in the City Council to fight the decision, claiming that because of their silence over similar moves in the past, today "pork is being sold on the streets of Rishon Lezion on Shabbat, christenings are being planned in public places and the city is being cleaned on Jewish holidays."
Kanyon Hazahav issued the following statement in response: "The entire commercial are near Kanyon Hazahav is open on Shabbat – entertainment centers, restaurants, shops – and we received an appeal from business owners to allow them to open their stores on Shabbat too in order to compete with other businesses in the area."
Meirav Crystal contributed to this report