Daily Israel Report

Mini Mart Owners: Give Us Back Our Day of Rest

Supreme Court declares system of fines for opening on Shabbat in Tel Aviv unfair. Smaller stores forced to open to avoid losing customers.
By Adam Ross
First Publish: 10/22/2013, 2:44 AM

AM PM store in Tel Aviv
AM PM store in Tel Aviv
Ofer Amram

A Tel Aviv mini mart owner says a July Supreme Court ruling calling on the Tel Aviv Municipality to enforce the closure of stores on Shabbat (Sabbath) must be enforced irrelevant of who wins the forthcoming council elections.

In a letter that he says will be widely circulated, Kobi Berner says the failure of the municipality to come down harder on larger stores has been forcing smaller stores to remain open so they don't lose out on customers, and in doing so, missing out on the Sabbath day of rest.

“It doesn't matter who is elected to the municipality in the coming elections," Berner wrote in the letter. "The Supreme Court's judgment was against the Tel Aviv Municipality irrelevant of who is elected to it,” he wrote.

Berner, who heads the Forum of Grocery Stores and Mini-marts in Israel, is leading a campaign initiated by local grocery store owners in Tel Aviv petitioning the Municipality against its “discriminatory” system of imposing fines against stores that stayed open on Shabbat.

Berner argued that while the larger supermarkets could absorb the fines, the smaller shops were suffering disproportionately. He added that he was not in favor of the stores remaining open, but said if they didn't open on the Jewish day of rest, when the larger stores did, they would lose customers who would grow accustomed to shopping elsewhere.

He said that being forced to open stores to avoid losing business, meant workers in smaller stores were not being granted a day of rest that the rest of the country enjoyed.

Berner has called out to consumers to support the smaller shops against their larger competitors. He said the issue would be discussed at a series of special Shabbat meals this coming Friday night, bringing secular and religious Jews together across the country.

In a letter to be distributed at the meals organized by the 'Shabbat Yisraeli' (Israeli Shabbat) organization, set to bring thousands of families together, he writes, “I call out to you to see before you the thousands of workers in small stores who are requesting a day of rest just as you all have.”

The issue of Shabbat observance in Tel Aviv has also led to the an unusual display of unity across the religious spectrum, with Israel’s two major hareidi-religious parties – Shas and Yahadut Hatorah (United Torah Judaism) – uniting not only with each other, but also with the religious-Zionist faction Bayit Yehudi (Jewish Home). The parties say that they all agree on the issue of the sanctity of Shabbat in the city.