Lighting candles for Sabbath in Beitar Illit
Lighting candles for Sabbath in Beitar Illit Israel news photo: Flash 90

Consumers are replacing politicians in the campaign to retain the sanctity of the Sabbath, say Ben Gurion University researchers Drs. Guy Ben-Porat and Omri Shamir.

The new State of Israel began with the government’s reaching an agreement with religious parties and institutions that businesses would be closed on the Sabbath, when Jews are prohibited from working and dealing with financial matters.

Consumer demand in the past two decades has resulted in many stores opening on the Sabbath, regardless of fines, but several boycotts have proven the consumer power of Sabbath-observant Jews who have forced some businesses to reconsider and shut down on the day of rest.

When stores, particularly those at shopping malls, began opening their doors on the Sabbath, “outrage among religious communities found little outlet in government action,” Drs. Ben-Porat and Shamir wrote in the Politics and Religion journal in Cambridge,

The researchers noted how consumer power worked after the AM:PM chain of convenience stores opened in Tel Aviv 7 days a week 24 hours a day. “The owner of the chain also operates a chain of supermarkets, Shefa Shuk, which boasted 40 percent of its clientele from the Orthodox communities,” the researchers wrote.

“Those communities threatened to boycott Shefa Shuk if AM:PM continued to be open on the Sabbath,” they continued. When the owner refused to capitulate, a boycott was launched and has forced the closure of several of the supermarket chain’s stores located in hareidi religious areas.

“As the formal political system has failed to yield solutions, the matter has gone to the streets where the potential for profit squares off against commitment to preserve the ritual nature of the Shabbat,” Ben-Porat and Shamir wrote.

They predicted that the trend will only strengthen in the coming years. “Consumer power, measured in both commitment and spending capacity, is likely to determine the future character of the Sabbath,” they conclude.