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Deri Ruling Sets Off Renewed Shabbat Battles

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Interior Minister Aryeh Deri (Shas) struck down bylaws in four cities – Modi’in, Rishon Lezion, Givatayim and Holon – that would allow mini-markets and convenience stores to open for business on Shabbat, setting off another round of what have become known as the Shabbat Wars.

In a statement, the interior ministry said the municipalities failed to prove the need for violating the religious status quo (that requires shop owners to close on Shabbat), thus giving Minister Deri the authority to overrule local council decisions.

Deri added that “it is a Jewish and social value to allow workers to rest on Shabbat. In addition, the municipalities seeking to allow businesses to open on Shabbat did not prove that there was a need for it, as mandated by law.”

Officials in the four relevant municipalities, as well as secular activists from around the country, wasted little time in responding to the decision. Rishon Lezion officials said they would appeal Deri’s ruling to the High Court of Justice in an attempt to maintain the status quo on major thoroughfares in the city.

“(Our local laws) were crafted to meet the needs of the residents of our city and reflect their needs very well,” the Rishon Lezion municipality said in a statement Monday. “They were passed by a solid majority of city council members, who truly represent the authentic residents of this city, and their decisions represent the desires and interests of the residents here.

“This arrangement strikes a careful balance between the different sectors of our city’s population, and particularly between the needs of the secular community and individuals who observe (Jewish) tradition,” the statement said.

Observance of Jewish religious law (halacha) in the public sphere has been a point of tension between Orthodox politicians and the secular majority in Israel for decades, and has often focused on Shabbat (other areas include the religious monopoly on personal status issues and the Chief Rabbinate’s trademark of the word ‘kosher,’ preventing restaurants who are supervised by non-rabbinate bodies from calling themselves ‘kosher’).

Last year, outgoing Chief Justice Miriam Naor used her final judgement to enshrine the right of the city of Tel Aviv’s to allow supermarkets to open on the Shabbat. That prompted the four cities who are party to the current suit to legislate the matter in an attempt to bypass the interior ministry, which enjoys the jurisdiction to block the local laws.

Predictably, Deri’s Orthodox colleagues threw their support behind the move to strike down the laws, with MK Uri Maklev (United Torah Judaism) criticizing the State of Israel and the Zionist movement for chipping away at a cornerstone of Jewish life.

“What 2000 years of exile couldn’t do to the Sabbath, the State of Israel has managed to do in just 70 years,” Maklev said.

By: TPS Staff

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