Israel Law on Shopping Heats Up Fight Between Religious and Secular Jews

The law is a political compromise

The all-night debate on whether the “minimarket bill” will be passed or not ended with the Haredi supported law being passed. The legislation stops most stores from doing businesses during Shabbat. The outcome was fierce: only a single vote made it into law. As per the newly passed law, any municipality which prefers stores situated within its boundary limits to open on Saturday must have prior permission of the interior minister. Right now, such a chance seems bleak. Arye Deri, the Shas chairman, is known to be conservative. His successors, however, may give such permissions. Exceptions to the law exist, like restaurants, gas stations, theaters, and cafes. Convenience stores attached to gas stations are also outside the purview of the law.

The passing of the law does not mean it will be implemented uniformly across all Israeli cities or towns. Officials of Knesset Interior and Environment Committee admitted that without bylaws which expressly prohibit commerce during Shabbat, businesses will continue to do a roaring trade without breaking the law. Even in towns, where such laws exist, the local authorities may simply not enforce them. This may create a complication: businesses which obeyed the law and shutter on Sabbath could then file a case against the government over the absence of enforcement by any computing business which has broken this law. The court can then order town authorities to either amend the law or enforce them. If a town tried to amend the bylaws, the change can be vetoed by the Israeli interior minister.

This legislation forms a component of the compromise which Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli Prime Minister, made to placate the ultra-orthodox factions like Haredi, Torah Judaism, and Shas parties. These hardline conservative parties are not too happy with public violations of Shabbat. Things came to such a pass that Ya'acov Litzman, the former health minister, resigned his post.

Israeli political observers regard Deri's push for this bill as a method to burnish his “protector of Shabbat” image. Prime Minister Netanyahu told his Likud party members that if the bill was not passed, then the coalition could break.

The opposition has already sprung up in action. Zehava Galon, the leader of the Meretz party, filed a petition in the High Court of Justice. The move was to declare this new law an unconstitutional one. She said that the law contravenes the right to freedom of secular Israelis.

Follow the Conversation on Twitter