Sabbath Candles
Sabbath CandlesPhoto: Flash 90

The battle for Sabbath is intensifying, as the buying power-strong hareidi public boycotts a supermarket chain owned by a man whose other stores are open on the Sabbath.

Leading hareidi-religious rabbis called last week for a ban on the popular Shefa Shuk (Plenty Market) supermarket chain - but later relaxed it somewhat.  Shefa Shuk is owned by Dudi Weissman, and caters to the religious public.  Weissman also owns Tel Aviv's trendy AM-PM chain of convenience stores, open 24 hours a day, seven days a week - including Sabbath (Saturday).

Lack of Enforcement

Israeli law forbids businesses from operating on the Sabbath, unless they have a special exemption related to security, health or other needs.  The law is basically not enforced, however. The Knesset Audit Committee charged State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss with investigating why this is so.

Left-wing MK Yechimovitch: "Everyone has the right to rest on the Sabbath. This is the biggest gift that Judaism has given the world.

Several secular elements have also joined in the battle for Sabbath.  Left-wing MK Shelly Yechimovitch of Labor, for instance, feels that it is unfair to force employees to work seven days a week.  "Everyone has the right to rest on the Sabbath," she says.  "This is the biggest gift that Judaism has given the world.  Today, however, this right is taken from those who work for these large chains.  If it would happen abroad, we would scream out 'anti-Semitism!'"

It has been estimated that 315,000 workers in Israel are forced to work on the Sabbath.  An article on states that these include, in addition to hi-tech and business executives, mostly day laborers such as stockers, checkout clerks and the like.  But, asks, "what about their families, who they generally don't get to see until the Sabbath?  Don't these modern-day slaves deserve to see them once in a while?"

Threat to Smaller Stores

The presence of the AM-PM stores has caused many smaller and older neighborhood grocery stores to close down, according to the testimony given at a recent Audit Committee session. 

"Friday used to be my best day," Kobi Bremer, the owner of a downtown Tel Aviv grocery, told the Committee.  "But today, I hardly have any work on Fridays, because my customers say: Why should I rush to buy on Friday morning, if I can go to AM-PM on Friday night or Sabbath morning?"

"If they want to out-price me, that's one thing," Bremer said. "But if we can offer a fair price, why should they be able to close me down just because they are working hours during which they are supposed to be closed?"

Leading rabbis from the religious-Zionist camp have also called not to do business with non-Sabbath observant companies.  Rabbis Chaim Druckman, Zalman Melamed, Dov Lior, David Chai HaCohen, Micha HaLevi and Yigal Kaminetzky signed a letter to this effect.  They wrote that the opening of stores on the Sabbath "means stealing Sabbath rest from the workers who find themselves forced to appear for work lest they lose their jobs.  It also threatens the rest day of other business proprietors, who fear losing their customers, and are liable - against their will - to open their businesses on the Sabbath, turning them into slaves seven days a week, night and day."

Boycott Partially Rescinded

The religious boycott of the Shefa Shuk stores was rescinded by several hareidi rabbis this week, following a compromise gesture by Weissman in closing about five of the AM-PM stores for the Sabbath.  Though some of these stores were closed for other reasons, the rabbis said that under the current circumstances, talks and negotiations now appear to be a better strategy than boycott.  Talks between the sides are reportedly continuing. warns that supporting open-on-Saturday businesses "endangers our children's future.  It is already hard today to find work in some areas that do not require work on Sabbath. Even some of the most prestigious hi-tech companies demand 24/7 availability.  But it is also happening in pharmacy chains, support personnel, and others - and soon it could happen to your own child."