Published on August 23rd, 2015 / Ohad Shpak
(For the Hebrew version – Walla News – click here)
This week the Jerusalem Municipality announced that it intends to step up enforcement against businesses open on Shabbat in certain areas of the capital. The decision, by chance or not, comes after a new Yes Planet movie complex and a large café opened last week in Jerusalem, which will operate on the weekly Jewish day of rest. The opening of these businesses was relatively peaceful. A few hundred Haredim (Ultra-Orthodox Jews) demonstrated near their neighborhoods against the openings, and it seems that screening movies and serving quinoa salads on Shabbat does not interest the Haredi public too much, as long as it is far from their own neighborhoods.
Once upon a time, this gave rise to great and Shabbat struggles in Israel’s capital. Thousands took to the streets against soccer matches held on Shabbat near the Mea Shearim neighborhood. The “Committee of Rabbis for the Holiness of the Shabbat” succeeded in moving tens of thousands in protest against the opening of the Bar-Ilan Street on Shabbat. The struggle in recent years against the intention to open large parking lots in the center of Jerusalem near the Old City on Shabbat is especially remembered.
Today, opening businesses, shops and places of entertainment in Jerusalem is not the cause for real dispute. Pubs in neighborhoods that do not have a religious or Haredi majority will continue to operate on Friday nights. Shops in Haredi or religious neighborhoods of Jerusalem will continue to be closed from the beginning of Shabbat to its end.
The Jerusalem Municipality’s decision to enforce the law against opening businesses on Shabbat is a no-choice decision. In 2013, the Supreme Court determined that if a local authority established bylaw which ruled on closed and open institutions on the day of rest, it must act to enforce them, even if partially. The Jerusalem Municipality did not have to enact a law regulating the activity of pubs, restaurants, shops and grocery stores on Shabbat, but once it had done so, it could not ignore it – it had to enforce or change it.
Nir Barkat and his colleagues at the Municipality acted wisely when they divided Shabbat enforcement in Jerusalem: in secular neighborhoods such as Kiryat Yovel, and recreation areas such as the neighborhoods of Ein Karem and Talpiot, enforcement will be “reduced,” meaning no enforcement. In Haredi neighborhoods, the Jewish Quarter of the Old City, and the city center, enforcement will be “increased,” meaning stepped-up enforcement. However, it is unclear why in the center of Jerusalem, characterized as a recreation area for locals and tourists, enforcement is to be increased.
However, why should a small group of people in the Jerusalem Municipality, or any other municipality decide for the residents? Why not free choice and the prevalence of market forces? The entrepreneur or the business owner should be able to choose where they wish to open a barbershop or bakery on the Shabbat: in a neighborhood with no demand at all, and perhaps even if demonstrations against the business are held, or in an area where people will be happy to use these services.
A survey conducted in 2009, revealed that 58% of the Israeli public supports the opening of businesses on Shabbat. A survey conducted in 2014, shows that 72% of the Jewish public in Israel supports the operation of shopping centers outside the cities on Shabbat.
A month ago, the Israeli High Court of Justice ordered the Interior Minister Silvan Shalom to determine who will have the authority to decide the identity and nature of the local authority that will deal with the issue of the weekly day of rest. Whether the authority regarding Shabbat will henceforth be in the hands of the Ministry of the Interior, or will the situation continue and will each local authority decide for itself.
Mr. Interior Minister – let the residents decide for themselves.