“The entire world was endowed with ten measures of beauty. Of these, Jerusalem received nine” (BT Kiddushin 49b).
Once every week its beauty is further enhanced, as Shabbat arrives in the holy city, the approach of the day of rest enwrapping David’s city with sanctity and radiance. A special tranquility descends on the city of God. The last of the market stalls have closed, served notice by the trumpets and shofars blasting around them in accord with Talmudic tradition. Tourists and guests leisurely make their way to the Western Wall, dressed in festive white, accompanied by the waning light of the sun as it sets in the Mediterranean to the west, the city walls engilded in its glow. Myriads of Jews hurry to the synagogues scattered throughout the city to welcome Shabbat, while the unobservant too are elevated by the unique atmosphere of a Shabbat in Jerusalem.
But this special atmosphere is threatened by an enemy.
His name is M., an entrepreneur from Jerusalem who is leading the campaign to put Jerusalem commercial life into motion on Shabbat. M. was a contractor before he turned entrepreneur. On his way to Jerusalem he made a stop at the port of Tel Aviv, where he opened restaurants and bars. Now he is bringing his Tel Avivian wares to the capital. He rented the historic train station by Liberty Bell Park, in the heart of Jerusalem, from Israel Railways and the Ministry of Transporation; handsomely renovated the property; and divided it up for rental to business owners. By the old rails he put up clothing and art stands, and even put aside space for a produce market—just like in Mahaneh Yehudah, they say in the municipal government, except that here the prices will be sky high.
According to the old Gashah Hiver routine, every store is a “boutique.” Surely enough, the commercial zone that M. has designated for stores and stands is advertised not as a market, but as a “cultural entertainment area.” The semantics here are very important. The idea is to use this name to circumvent municipal bylaws and the Hours of Work and Rest Law that was put on the books to cement Shabbat as the national day of rest.
Here’s how it works: since cultural activity counts as rest, having an entertainment area open on Shabbat is consistent with the status quo and municipal bylaws, as long as the tomato stands are interspersed with dancing girls and there are clowns on stilts walking around among the haberdashers. Hence this is not a commercial space, but a street theater. Judges have already issued rulings determining that cinemas and theaters may open on Shabbat.
All M. has to do then is find non-Jewish (i.e. Arab) workers, so that if Labor Ministry inspectors come along, there will be no fines for violation of the Hours of Work and Rest Law.
Next, the shopkeepers of Mahaneh Yehudah will come and say they also want to keep their stalls open on Shabbat, and they also will be given the okay to stay open, as long as they bring in some clowns. The workers there are Arabs as it is. They even can argue with some justification that there is no need for clowns and musicians: the calls of some of the salespeople there reveal real musical and comedic talent, as any Jerusalemite can attest.
If we don’t do something, additional businesses will want to join the competition for customers on Shabbat. Few will stay behind. The extra business would substantially increase the financial turnover of the Shabbat violators, thus allowing them to offer better prices even during the week. Competitors will be unable to match them and will go out of business, or else join them.
This is an election year for the mayor of Jerusalem, so although there is much that he could do, he is doing nothing. It is even possible that having the area open on Shabbat will benefit him, coming as it does in the middle of the anti-Haredi wave that is sweeping the country.
What is there to do? Assemble a social protest movement to protect Shabbat as the day of rest and a key national value. Successful protest movements are in at the moment.
Then there is another solution: In the United States of the thirties and forties, Shabbat -observant businesses found themselves in competition with businesses that were open on Shabbat, which gave the competition an additional day of financial turnover while the observant business people were sitting at home or in their synagogues.
In response, religious Jewry and its rabbis developed a defensive economic measure. Every business that observed Shabbat hung up a sign to that effect. Rabbis and public opinion leaders called on religious and observant Jews to buy only from Shabbat-observant businesses. Thus Orthodox Judaism protected Shabbat observers and prevented their businesses from going under, and a relatively closed economic system came into bring: prefer to buy from Shabbat observers whenever possible.
Those were not easy days. In many Orthodox homes there were people who did not comply. Yet the move, whose effects are felt to this day, is a good example for effective communal organization in Israel.
So let’s act accordingly: don’t enter the old train station area on any day of the week. For extra credit, don’t even go near M.’s properties at the Tel Aviv port (albeit most of his restaurants there aren’t even kosher). Go to malls that are Shabbat-observant and kosher. Period. Call Minister of Economy Naftali Bennett, the head of the Jewish Home, and tell him to enforce the law and have his inspectors shut down the train station area on Shabbat.
Let’s bring back the country’s Jewish soul and return the sanctity of Shabbat to the public sphere.
Originally published in Mekor Rishon, May 24th, 2013. Translated from Hebrew by David B. Greenberg.