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Photo: Yaron Brenner
am:pm with 'closed' signs on window
Photo: Yaron Brenner
Contesting Shabbat bill proposals to be raised by coalition
Two bills expose dichotomy between ultra-Orthodox and more centrist parties, as Haredim frame bill to close all businesses and transport on Shabbat, and others seek compromise.
The battle for Shabbat is heating up in the coalition once again as two contesting bill proposals are set to be put on the agenda: One by the ultra-Orthodox parties is seeking to completely ban public transportation and open businesses on Saturdays, while the other is a joint initiative of the Likud, Kulanu and Yesh Atid parties, which seeks to allow such activity, albeit in a limited capacity.

 

 

Both proposals are set to go up for discussion in the Ministerial Committee for Legislation on Sunday.

 

Likud MK Miki Zohar, Kulanu MK Rachel Azaria and Yesh Atid MK Elazar Stern are spearheading a bill that differentiates between the different businesses, allowing cultural institutions, restaurants and cafes to remain open on the Jewish day of rest.

 

The legislation is based on the Gavison-Medan Covenant, a framework that catered for coexistence between religious and secular Jews in Israel and which partially separated Israel's "Synagogue and State", which was formulated 13 years ago by Rabbi Yaacov Medan and Prof. Ruth Gavison.

 

Tel Aviv minimarket 24-hour am:pm (Photo: Yaron Brener)
Tel Aviv minimarket 24-hour am:pm (Photo: Yaron Brener)

"The bill proposal regulates the variety of issues concerning Shabbat as a day of rest in relation to the Israeli work week, including the opening of cultural institutions and places of leisure and recreation, public transportation, the opening of businesses, and a shorter work week," the bill's framers wrote.

 

"The proposal sets rules and a framework, leaving a wide berth for municipalities to make their own decisions in accordance with the needs and preference of their residents.

 

"The components of the proposal are dependent upon each other and complement one another. Shortening the work week would allow the average family to both work for a living and dedicate time during the week for other necessary activities such as errands and shopping. This in turn would allow for the reduction of opening hours of malls outside city centers on Shabbat without disrupting these families' daily lives."

 

Reducing trade on Saturdays, the bill proposal argues, would strengthen Shabbat's status as "Oneg Shabbat" (Shabbat delight) dedicated to cultural and recreational activities with family and other members of the community.

 

To that end, cultural institutions, as well as recreational and leisure businesses will be open on Shabbat, while convenience stores' operations will be reduced in a fashion that still ensures residents have access to them and will maintain fair competition.

 

In addition, under the proposal, limited public transportation would be made available from residential areas to recreational and cultural locations. Municipalities would be able to determine the extent of public transportation and its routes on Shabbat while avoiding causing offense to residents in religious neighborhoods. The transport would be done in small vehicles, either hybrid or electric, so as to not disrupt the quiet that usually accompanies the day of rest.

 

The bill's authors called on the Ministerial Committee members to support the legislation, saying it could help mitigate rifts in Israeli society over issues of religion and state, particularly Shabbat.

 

'It's not nice to see am:pm closed' (Photo: Yaron Brener)
'It's not nice to see am:pm closed' (Photo: Yaron Brener)
 

 

"Political solutions require compromise. The bill proposal offers a compromise all could live with. It would reduce the desecration of Shabbat in the country, allow each person to enjoy Shabbat in his or her own way, and reflect the colorfulness of Israeli society," the framers wrote. 

 

Complete closure on Shabbat

On the other side of the divide, United Torah Judaism MK Moshe Gafni is promoting a bill to ban all businesses—regardless of their nature or the function they serve—as well as all forms of public transportation on Shabbat.

  

"For thousands of years, Jews have sacrificed their lives for the observance of the Shabbat," Gafni writes in the bill proposal. "Even during difficult periods in the annals of the Jewish people, when different elements—such as the Greek, Romans and Communists—tried to set decrees and forbid the observance of Shabbat, when Shabbat observance was done at the risk of a death sentence or exile to Siberia, the Jews observed Shabbat with complete devotion."

 

The proposal criticizes a Supreme Court ruling that allowed the opening of convenience stores on Saturday, which according to UTJ was done against the decisions of the executive branch.

 

"Commercial activity on Shabbat hurts small business owners who cannot compete with big companies," the bill proposal argues. "Authorizing the opening of businesses on Shabbat, in practice, enables money-hungry tycoons to get richer on the day of rest at the expense of their junior employees who, instead of spending the weekly day of rest in peace with their families, are forced to work.

 

"Therefore, we propose to invalidate the bylaw that regulates the opening of businesses on Shabbat, unless such a bylaw is approved by the interior minister. Furthermore, in light of the violation of the status quo following the High Court's decision to approve the Tel Aviv bylaw, we propose to determine that every bylaw on the opening of stores passed after January 1, 2014, will be invalidated, unless it receives the approval of the interior minister."

 

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