Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau
Rabbi Yisrael Meir LauIsrael news photo: Arutz Sheva

Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau, a former Chief Rabbi of Israel and the Rabbi of Tel Aviv, has sent an argument against opening stores on the Sabbath to all local politicians, in an attempt to stop Mayor Ron Huldai’s plan to change the city's bylaws in order to allow Sabbath business.

Allowing stores to open on the Sabbath will be bad for workers, bad for families and bad for the economy, as well as bad for Jewish unity, Rabbi Lau argued.

Tel Aviv city law currently requires businesses within city limits to be closed on the Sabbath. The law does not apply to restaurants, entertainment venues, or “essential services” such as pharmacies.

In recent years, major grocery chains began to leave their Tel Aviv branches open on the Sabbath. The city turned a blind eye to their activity, but in 2013 the High Court ordered the city to enforce its laws – prompting Huldai to suggest that instead, the laws be changed.

Rabbi Lau told Arutz Sheva that in his letter to Huldai and city council members, he quoted Tel Aviv’s first mayor, Meir Dizengoff, who said, “Whoever violates the holiness of the Sabbath, damages the unity of the nation of Israel.”

“There has been Sabbath desecration in the past, but this decision would mean cancelling the Sabbath day,” Rabbi Lau warned. “It will hurt small stores, because whoever buys on Saturday will not buy on Sunday.”

Small business owners in Tel Aviv have lamented the loss of their weekly day of rest for the sake of competition with bigger businesses.

In addition, Rabbi Lau said, the proposed law would “deter those who keep the Sabbath from working in the places that are open on the Sabbath – and this is at a time when they are talking about integrating hareidi Jews in the workforce.”

There is also the question of family time to consider, he said, “People want one day for parents and children to be together, and now we won’t have that.”

“Is this what the city is about?” he asked. “Once, there were Sabbath gatherings in Tel Aviv where the judge Dr. Zilberg would give a lesson in Talmud, [renowned poet] Bialik would read the aggadah, and the cantor Shlomo Ravitz would sing… We have roots, and we should honor them.”

People worldwide take a day off from work each week, Rabbi Lau noted. “Should this be the place where we have a seven-day work week, for the sake of a bowl of lentil stew?” he asked.

Rabbi Lau noted that Huldai has not yet responded to his letter, and that the Tel Aviv city council is scheduled to discuss the issue of Sabbath store openings only next week. He explained that he had decided to voice his concerns over the issue at an early stage.

He expressed hope that Minister of Economy Naftali Bennett, who is also the Minister of Religious Services, would get involved in the matter, along with Deputy Minister of Religious Services Rabbi Eli Ben-Dahan and Minister of the Interior Gidon Saar. The minister should intervene, in a sensitive manner, because the law could change the entire country, he warned.

“Today it’s Tel Aviv, tomorrow someone will appeal to the Supreme Court in the name of equality and ask to open stores in other cities,” he explained.