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Secular Tel Aviv Storeowners Sue City To Protect Shabbat Rights

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TEL AVIV – While Tel Aviv has garnered headlines for green-lighting a controversial plan to launch public transportation on Shabbat, some secular independent storeowners have been waging a legal battle to have the city enforce labor laws that prohibit round-the-clock operation of supermarkets and other retail outlets.

Tel Aviv attorney David Shub, representing more than 100 storeowners within the Association of Independent Merchants, has petitioned Israel’s Supreme Court to tell the city of Tel Aviv it must either enforce the labor laws or revoke the business permits of 24/7 chain supermarkets such as AM/PM and Tiv Ta’am.

A district court judge recently ruled against Shub’s group, saying Tel Aviv had tacitly abided by labor laws via the issuance of summonses and fines against the 24/7 chains. Shub is optimistic, however, that the Supreme Court will find a way to close the legal loopholes and force the chain stores to close.

“The independent merchants are not doing this for a holy purpose so much as for social and cultural purposes,” Shub told The Jewish Press. “Everyone, including secular Jews, has the right to enjoy Shabbat and a day of rest in their own manner.

“Because stores such as AM/PM refuse to close on Shabbat, they are taking parnassah away from the independent store owners who don’t want to compete on their day of rest. As for the penalty the city claims it has meted out to the larger chain stores that stay open on Shabbat, it’s a complete farce. The general fine is 600 shekels [about $150] a week; the profits they make on Shabbat sales far exceed the fine. The independent small business owners would rather enjoy being with family and friends on Shabbat than having to worry if competing stores who openly break the law will hurt their livelihood.”

Shub maintains there is a simple solution to the 24/7 supermarket phenomenon.

“If the Supreme Court upholds our appeal, the judges can state that the stores open on Shabbat are violating their work permits. We have recommended to the Supreme Court that the way to end this farce so that everyone can enjoy a true day of rest is to just tell the violators that they stand to lose their business operating license or work permit. We all believe we can win this case.”

Labor Party head Shelly Yachimovich, a resident of Tel Aviv, has opposed the operation of businesses on Shabbat. She told a radio interviewer, “Shabbat is the most wonderful social justice law ever legislated. Businesses are trying to violate this law by presenting it as a struggle between secular Jews and haredi Jews, but this is inaccurate. Every working person deserves at least one day off a week.”

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