The Rishon LeZion city council approved Monday night an amendment to the municipal bylaw allowing businesses (grocery stores and kiosks) to remain open on Shabbat in an effort to outmaneuver national legislation seeking to give the interior minister the authority to cancel such bylaws.
The Rishon municipality explained the issue was raised Monday in an effort "to maintain the status quo" after the so-called supermarkets bill passed in the Knesset in its first reading and before it goes up to a vote in its second and third reading.
According to the amendment approved in Rishon LeZion, business owners will be able to open on Saturday in the city's industrial areas and main streets—including Jabotinsky, Herzl, Rothschild and Jerusalem streets.
The hours of activity will be discussed in a future meeting of the city council.
Mayor Dov Zur has been working on the amendment to the bylaw since May, with a special team he formed preparing an extensive plan to change the existing bylaw to allow preserving the existing situation in the city.
"Since there are only a few businesses operating in Rishon LeZion on Shabbat, the amendment to the bylaw should not bother Shabbat observers," the municipality said in a statement.
United Torah Judaism MK Uri Maklev slammed the amendment to the Rishon bylaw, saying "this legislation hurts the cornerstones of the Jewish people. The government's supermarkets bill will come into effect before the municipal bylaws go into effect. Beyond that, the interior minister has the authority not to accept these bylaws even now."
And, indeed, any bylaw approved in a municipality or local council before going into effect must go through a bureaucratic process in the Interior Ministry, which is led by Shas leader Aryeh Deri who also proposed the supermarkets bill.
The municipal legal office has to work with the Interior Ministry's legal department on the bylaw, which later needs to also receive the approval of the Justice Ministry. It is only after these two stages are completed that the bylaw reaches the interior minister's table for signing.
This technical procedure takes several weeks at least, and therefore makes it unlikely the bylaws would go into effect before the supermarkets bill is passed into law.
A coalition official said Monday that even without being intentionally delayed, the approval procedure for municipal bylaws could take at least two months.
In addition, the interior minister could delay the bylaw for at least four months.
The Givatayim municipality also tried to approve a similar bylaw, but the move has been delayed by court order that determined the city council cannot discuss the matter, citing procedural reasons.
According to the bill proposal, a municipality would be able to change its bylaws to allow commercial activity on Shabbat only with the approval of the interior minister. The legislation will not, however, allow the minister to change existing bylaws.
This prompted several municipalities to rush to pass a special bylaw to allow businesses to remain open on Shabbat before the supermarkets bill is passed into law and goes into effect.
In addition to Givatayim and Rishon LeZion, the mayors of Holon, Ramat Gan, Modi'in and Herzliya are also working on such legislation.
The supermarkets bill was scheduled to go up for discussion at the Knesset's Interior Committee this week ahead of its second and third reading. The ultra-Orthodox parties have the support of the coalition on this legislation after UTJ leader Yaakov Litzman resigned from his position as health minister to protest train work being done on Shabbat. The Haredim are putting heavy pressure on the coalition to pass the legislation before municipalities across the country can pass bylaws to allow businesses to operate on Shabbat, thus creating facts on the ground.
But the approval of the supermarket bill has been delayed, as the Knesset's committee work has been halted while the lawmakers are holding a three-day discussion over another controversial legislation, the recommendations bill.
So far, there has not been a new date set for the Interior Committee's discussion on the supermarkets bill, which gives hope to municipalities hoping to amend their bylaws.
Givatayim city council members from Bayit Yehudi and Likud, along with the Association of Merchants and Independents, were the ones to ask the procedural court to issue the temporary injunction in an effort to stall for time, thus giving the Haredi parties in the Knesset the time to pass the supermarkets bill.
The temporary injunction in Givatayim inspired supporters of the supermarkets bill in other cities to plan similar moves to delay the amendments of the bylaws in their municipalities.
Givatayim Mayor Ran Kunik said he intends to file an urgent request to the court to cancel the injunction, following which he will call a meeting at the earliest opportunity to discuss the proposed amendment to the bylaw.
Meanwhile, the Knesset approved in second and third reading early Tuesday another bill proposal that will require the labor minister to consider "Israel's tradition" when deciding on giving work permits for the Jewish day of rest. Fifty MKs voted in favor of the bill, while 38 opposed—turning it into law.