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Is 'predatory theocracy' actually threatening Tel Aviv?

A recent Supreme Court ruling dictated that Tel Aviv must shut down certain business during the Sabbath. The decision was met by an automatic response that framed the decision as a ruling in favor of a ‘predatory theocracy,’ instead of one in support of an ‘enlightened, free, and open’ society. But are these the only two options available?

By Hagai El-Ad

Recently, the Supreme Court in Israel decided to order the Tel Aviv Municipality to either enforce – or amend – the City’s existing municipal bylaw with regard to the closure of certain businesses on Shabbat. Yes, Tel Aviv actually has such a bylaw, though you may be hard pressed to notice it, given the number of businesses in the city that are open on Shabbat.

Unfortunately, the Court’s decision was met with a rather lukewarm, automatic response. To that, I want to offer an alternative that I hope will serve us not only in the coming new Jewish year, but also beyond.

The automatic response was to frame the court’s decision as a ruling in favor of a “predatory theocracy,” instead of one in support of an “enlightened, free, and open” society. But are these the only two options available?

True, there are issues on which it is really hard to reconcile liberal values and traditional ones. But is the opening of supermarkets on Shabbat in Tel Aviv really such an issue?

Here is a point that may give us a reason to pause and ponder: who brought the case before the Court in the first place? It certainly wasn’t the Orthodox Rabbinate. The people who wanted to force the city to respect its own bylaw were simply small shop owners who were unable to work seven says a week and couldn’t compete with the supermarket chains.

And here’s another news flash: other cities around the globe, including cities that many Tel Avivians envy for how “enlightened” they are, do restrict the opening of businesses on the day of rest. Take Berlin for example – the happening city of the decade. There, in general, shops are closed on Sundays, but for when certain events take place in the city. This means that out of 52 Sundays in the year 2012, shops were closed on 44 of them. Does that make Berlin subject to a “predatory theocracy,” or is it still an “enlightened, free, and open” city?

The court ‘s decision is not a judgment between black and white; rather, it is an opportunity to seriously consider the important social and public aspects of the city’s bylaw. What social norm do we want this bylaw to reflect in Tel Aviv and elsewhere?

Socially, there is no way around the fact that open stores on Shabbat have implications vis-à-vis the rights of workers in these businesses. This, in a country where workers’ rights are already regularly trampled on, with constant efforts to further reduce the protections provided by Israel’s Hours of Work and Rest Law. Will those willing to fearlessly fight – in the name of human rights, no less – for the opening of supermarket chains they otherwise despise also remember the rights of workers?

Further, the public character of Shabbat is a question for all Israelis. There is a diversity of Jews, Muslims and Christians in Israel – some religious, some not. There are secular people in Tel Aviv who that prefer businesses remain closed on Saturday, and there are Orthodox in Jerusalem that are not opposed to businesses being open on Shabbat in some parts of the city.

Fortunately, not all positions are automatic.

Is it possible to find such a thoughtful, non-automatic, balance? To find an Israeli point of balance that takes into account components of both individual rights and of community identity? A local space, wide and imaginative enough, that will allow more people to find themselves and their identity in the discourse of rights – and will allow the rights discourse to organically find itself here.

Hagai El-Ad is the Executive Director of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel. 

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  • COMMENTS

    1. Kolumn9

      Nonsense. If I want to open a store on Saturday on the basis of what are you going to deny me? The rights of the workers? They work, they get paid. If you want to ensure they have a day off, legislate for that rather than hiding behind it to coerce me into not opening my business on Saturday. Likewise if you and your ilk force closed the businesses currently open on Saturday you will cut the incomes of those employees that currently work on Saturday. And don’t try to sell this garbage on the basis of a comparison to Berlin. Just because that city has customs that are a throwback to when it was on a Christian schedule doesn’t mean that I have to accept limitations on my freedoms, regardless of how ‘enlightened’ you may think they are.

      Likewise as a consumer, who are you to prevent me from buying goods on one of the days of the week which I likely have off from work? Why am I supposed to run around on Friday morning buying all my crap in supermarkets bursting at the seams with people and shopping carts? If I want to buy goods from a merchant that wishes to sell them to me who are you to get in the middle?

      Reply to Comment
    2. From what little I have read, the Court framed the issue as one of equal protection. Current ordinance provides for a civil fine upon opening on Saturday; larger businesses pay the fine, smaller ones feel they cannot afford to do so. The penalty structure thereby suppresses competition, violating equal protection for small businesses.

      The content of this decision, and expansion of equal protection, is more important than its local outcome. It is my hope that, over time, a decision like this will help expand equal protection in more sorely needed areas.

      Reply to Comment
    3. Piotr Berman

      There is a doctrine in USA that a law can be invalidated if it does not serve any public good. I am not sure why, there is no clause in the Constitution that says “no laws shall be made that are pure b..t”, but something can be interpreted in that way.

      Coordinated day of rest for big majority of workers and students is being justified by fostering joint family activities. Presumably, if there is a waiter or waitress in the family, they they can meet in that restaurant.
      And if Dad or Mom works in the red light district … I guess the family can have a brunch together.

      Reply to Comment
    4. I agree with K9. Here in the drizzly Britzy Isle, shops open whenever they like. Having worked in several small shops, I can testify that it’s no hardship, but rather a boon to workers; one trades shifts, takes advantage of extra time, organises one’s schedule by agreement. There are always more part-timers than full-timers working in small shops (especially, of course, women). The purpose of Hagai El-Ad’s article seems to me not to be the same as its stated rationale. Its purpose is to manipulate secular Israelis into a specious consent. It’s an example of what is known (following Christian theological parlance, I believe) as “special pleading”. I can feel that.

      Reply to Comment
    5. tenchlion

      From what I understand, many of the secular folks objecting to the way that the law is currently enforced is that big chains can afford to pay the fines if they are cited for being open, and small businesses can not. There are a number of kiosks with only one or two workers, and they close to avoid the fines, but also to have a day off from working, as they should. As to the argument above, Kolumn9 has it mostly right, but I think that, as someone who has worked in a number of shift or retail jobs, that the workers are NOT always able to dictate schedules according to their own plans. I have been in job situations where I was threatened with being canned if I didn’t work on day x/shift x. I’m American, and we have specific legislation about 40 hour work-weeks, but these are for workers paid an hourly wage only, and the legally mandated “time-and-a-half” may be giving the workers MONEY, but this precludes any possible threats made to the workers, or decreases in their hours as retribution for not taking a certain shift, etc. The article is merely suggesting that stores open or shut is not an “either/or” situation of theocracy versus free-market capitalism; there are degrees to everything. If I have to go shopping on Wednesday (hell no, I never go on Friday mornings) because I am SURE AM:PM isn’t gonna be open, I’m willing to bend my own schedule so that people can have some guaranteed time off to relax and experience some of life’s non-monetized joys.

      Reply to Comment
      • Kolumn9

        The article is pure BS and intends to introduce obfuscation into what is otherwise a black and white object. Either I can sell or shop on Saturday or I can’t. If you wish to argue that I should be legally prevented from either selling or buying then provide arguments. Yours, about workers, doesn’t wash. It is an argument for laws that protect workers not one for preventing me from buying or selling on Saturday. Then there is the argument that some shop-owners can’t afford to pay the fines required to stay open on Saturday. That is an excellent argument for removing these fines because they are retarded in the first place. It is not a legitimate argument for preventing me from selling or shopping on Saturday. Likewise the idea that I owe something to these shop owners and should gladly limit my freedom to do business so that they can have a day off on Saturday is silly. I owe them nothing. They are by definition capitalists operating a business of their own free will. If they can’t compete let them sell to someone else that can. There is no reason why the law should protect them from fair competition by others that are capable of actually keeping their stores open on Saturday and in doing so provide services to willing customers. The only other argument being offered is that some people wish for Saturday to be a day of rest. That is a roundabout way of saying that some people wish to impose their religious (or non-religious) nonsense on me as a merchant or a consumer. It is not an argument for doing so, especially in Tel Aviv where I would guess the overwhelming majority of people would be opposed to religious coercion forcing businesses closed on Saturday. The people that hold such views are welcome to rest on Saturday if they wish but what I do with mine is entirely none of their business.

        So no, I don’t accept that there are degrees to everything because that is another way of saying there is some sort of legitimate argument being made by the authors. There isn’t.

        Reply to Comment
    6. Tenchlion, you don’t make it clear whether your own experience has anything to do with religious factors, but in the TA situation, clearly what is happening is that the population as a whole is being deprived of a resource which is popular among the secular majority, in order to protect the religious minority among shop workers from being fined or otherwise coerced into working on days when their religion forbids it. So let’s be clear about who is being deprived and for whose benefit.

      Reply to Comment
    7. The Trespasser

      >in order to protect the religious minority among shop workers from being fined or otherwise coerced into working on days when their religion forbids it

      Purest grade nonsense. You have not ever remote idea of what you are talking about.

      Reply to Comment
    8. Why is it nonsense? Explain.

      Reply to Comment
      • The Trespasser

        Because
        A) An observant Jew would not allow him/herself to be employed in a business which is working on Shabbat.

        B) An observant Jew can not be coerced into working during Shabbat, unless it is “pikuakh nefesh”
        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pikuach_nefesh

        C) Even if a place working 24/7, one day off accordingly to employee’s religion is ensured by the law.

        Reply to Comment
    9. I don’t have first-hand experience of Israeli everyday life, but I think you’re being much too black & white. I wasn’t talking about the ultra-orthodox; they are not going to like living in Tel Aviv much anyway. I was talking about the ordinary Jewish Israelis who are nominally Orthodox according to the fairly lax standards of Israeli Orthodoxy, to which they belong by default, because it goes with the nationality, even though they may never visit a synagogue except for b’rits and marriages, and maybe to arrange their burial plots. Many of them would like to make Shabbat a ‘family day’, I don’t doubt, and could rationalise that as a religious objection. In the first thread I saw about this on here, by Dahlia Scheindlin, there was a lot of free reference to the TA religious constituency, whatever it is. For instance, XYZ said sarcastically: “I see, religiously observant Jews have no rights in Tel Aviv, since, according to you it is largely secular. Let them move away. Okay, what do you say about forcing out all the secular from Jerusalem and closing everything there on Shabbat since it is “religous”? Why shouldn’t religious Jews have any rights in the Jewish state, even in Tel Aviv, where there is a religous minority?”

      Reply to Comment
      • The Trespasser

        >I don’t have first-hand experience of Israeli everyday life

        Well, I do have quite a lot of first-hand experience of Israli everyday life, including that in Tel Aviv.

        >but I think you’re being much too black & white.

        You should not think. You don’t have enough information to think.

        >I wasn’t talking about the ultra-orthodox; they are not going to like living in Tel Aviv much anyway.

        *facepalm*

        >I was talking about the ordinary Jewish Israelis who are nominally Orthodox

        Nominally Orthodox? Oh, please.

        A person is either Jewish or not Jewish.

        If a person is Jewish he/she might be:

        “hiloni” – secular. Eating seafood and swine and does not give a flying duck about Shabbat. For instance, instead of a traditional Shabbat greeting “Shabbat shalom” – “might the peace be with you during Shabbat” they would rather say “sofash naim” – “have a nice weekend”

        “masorti” – “traditional” meaning that a person would keep to some of “mitzvahs” – commandments. Probably would refrain from working on Shabbat, while would smoke and cook and probably would not eat seafood.

        “dati” – religious. Live (more or less, everybody sins, you know) strictly by religious laws. No non-kosher food, no working on shabbat, prayers 3 times per day, blessings before each meal/drink etc., etc.

        “Dati” is roughly equal to “haredi” – “afraid of g-d”

        Basically, any Jew who lives by “halakha” – the Jewish law – is “haredi”, “afraid of g-d”

        Outfit is pretty much defined by community to which a person belongs or a rabbi one follows.

        From halakhic point of view, knit kippah and black kippah are equal.

        >according to the fairly lax standards of Israeli Orthodoxy

        Orthodoxy have anything but lax standards.

        >to which they belong by default, because it goes with the nationality

        Nonsense, just nonsense.

        >even though they may never visit a synagogue except for b’rits and marriages, and maybe to arrange their burial plots.

        More nonsense. A synagogue has nothing whatsoever to do with b’rits, marriages and burial plots. All these issues are conducted through Rabbinate – Ministry of Jewish Affairs, so to say.

        >Many of them would like to make Shabbat a ‘family day’, I don’t doubt, and could rationalise that as a religious objection.

        That is because you were misled.

        Firstly, great most of businesses are closed on Shabbat, meaning that it is really not a problem to find a job with guaranteed day off on Shabbat. Secondly, stores in question comprise only miniscule percent of businesses which are opened during Shabbat.

        There are tens and hundreds of hotels, coffee houses, restaurants, cinemas, factories, taxi stations, fuel stations and what not opened in Tel Aviv area between Friday afternoon and Saturday evening.

        Yet the discussion is mostly focused on AM:PM stores network, with roughly 50 branches in Tel Aviv and about 10 branches in the remainder of Israel.

        50 branches times three people on each shift on average times three 8-hour shifts = 3600 man-hours during Shabbat.

        To compare, Hilton hotel employs over 70 people during Shabbat, 1680 man-hours.

        Basically, two large hotels “infringe” as much religious rights as the largest grocery store network.

        I suppose, the next step would be proceeding to close these hotels during Shabbat. I’m quite positive that hotel guests would be more than happy to spend Shabbat on the beach. Tents and sleeping bags provided by hotels.

        Reply to Comment
        • Let me give you a comparison. Until about 30 years ago or so, everyone in England was regarded by officialdom as members of the Church of England by default. If an individual belonged to another Church, they could say so, eg ‘Presbyterian’ or ‘Methodist’. If they belonged to no Church at all, there was no category for them. In the same way, all Jewish Israelis are assumed by officialdom to be Orthodox, according to the peculiarly lax standards applied to them, which were one of the results of Ben Gurion’s Status Quo agreement with the Chief Rabbinates. Nowadays you can in theory stipulate that you belonged to some other Jewish denomination, such as Masorti with a capital M, which is an officially recognised denomination now, though it’s miniscule and lacks the sort of interlock with nationality registration that the Orthodox Rabbinates have. But I take it that wasn’t what you meant when you used the word with a small ‘m’. The people I am trying to describe are nominally Orthodox, by default. That makes nationality registration much easier. I dare say there are clerks in the innumerable offices that deal with who you officially are, who would refuse to put ‘Masorti’ on a form for you. It’s obviously easier to stay officially Orthodox, and that’s what most people do. But their feelings about that are mixed, to say the least. They can be harassed in various ways by the Rabbinates, though up until now they haven’t been. They can be corralled into aspects of observance they wouldn’t have chosen voluntarily. It’s an aspect of the kulturkampf.

          Reply to Comment
          • The Trespasser

            >Let me give you a comparison. Until about 30 years ago or so, everyone in England was regarded by officialdom as members of the Church of England by default.

            Nothing even remotely similar in Israel. Rabbinate merely carries out Halakha duties, people does not “belong” to it.

            >In the same way, all Jewish Israelis are assumed by officialdom to be Orthodox

            *facepalm*

            No. In Israel the Chief Rabbinate decides who is a Jew and who is not, accordingly to Halakha.

            If they actually happen to be, than they have to have all their Judaic civil needs, such as weddings and burials, conducted or through rabbinate, because Ben Gurion had made the Chief Rabbinate the supreme official state body responsible for Judaism issues.

            However that does not mean that a person “belongs” to the Rabbinate.

            >according to the peculiarly lax standards applied to them,

            What “lax standards” are you talking about? Standards of what? “Jewishness”? *facepalm*

            > which were one of the results of Ben Gurion’s Status Quo agreement with the Chief Rabbinates.

            The results of the agreement is that Chief Rabbinates had became the only official religious Jewish body in Israel, but it does not mean that it has control of every aspect of life.

            >Nowadays you can in theory stipulate that you belonged to some other Jewish denomination

            Torah is rather clear regarding the conversion process.

            Conversions by Reformist Rabbis are about as legit and make as much sense as a conversion into Islam without reciting the formula would be.

            >such as Masorti with a capital M, which is an officially recognised denomination now

            Masorti is a not denomination. ROFL. Where did you read that?

            >But I take it that wasn’t what you meant when you used the word with a small ‘m’.The people I am trying to describe are nominally Orthodox, by default.

            *facepalm*

            >That makes nationality registration much easier. I dare say there are clerks in the innumerable offices that deal with who you officially are, who would refuse to put ‘Masorti’ on a form for you.

            Well, “Masorti” is a nonsense denomination. “People Who Sometimes Keep To Some Traditions”. I find it hard to believe that someone bothered to actually register it.

            It’s obviously easier to stay officially Orthodox, and that’s what most people do.

            *facepalm*

            There is no such thing as “officially Orthodox” neither is there a place where you can change it into “Reformist” or “Masorti”

            >But their feelings about that are mixed, to say the least. They can be harassed in various ways by the Rabbinates, though up until now they haven’t been.

            Nonsense. Just nonsense.

            >They can be corralled into aspects of observance they wouldn’t have chosen voluntarily. It’s an aspect of the kulturkampf.

            *facepalm*

            Well, as I said earlier “Purest grade nonsense. You have not even remotest idea of what you are talking about.”

            Reply to Comment
    10. David T.

      “You should not think. You don’t have enough information to think.”

      The 11th commandment or just the ridiculous arrogance of a know it all?

      Reply to Comment
      • The Trespasser

        “Thou who do not know shit shalt not have opinion before me”

        Should be the first commandment, as a matter of fact.

        Reply to Comment
        • ““masorti” – “traditional” meaning that a person would keep to some of “mitzvahs” – commandments. Probably would refrain from working on Shabbat, while would smoke and cook and probably would not eat seafood.”

          Right. That’s the normal people I’m talking about. Nominally Orthodox but actually totally lax. Goes with the nationality, etc. They’re the ones who this sort of legislation is aimed at.

          Reply to Comment
          • The Trespasser

            >Right. That’s the normal people I’m talking about. Nominally Orthodox but actually totally lax.

            The normal people *faceplam*
            There is no such thing as “nominally Orthodox”
            A person is either Jews accordingly to Halakha, or is not.

            >Goes with the nationality, etc.

            Nonsense.

            >They’re the ones who this sort of legislation is aimed at.

            Aimed at what? Make them keep Shabbat? There are thousands of businesses which are closed on Shabbat. Carefully read my previous post.

            Reply to Comment
          • You keep bashing yourself in the face with that *facepalm*. Why not do the thing properly and rend your garments?

            Reply to Comment
          • The fact that you call it “nonsense” a total of nine times is of less significance that the fact that you conclude it is “insurmountable”. That which is insurmountable will continue to tower over you.

            Reply to Comment
          • The Trespasser

            >That which is insurmountable will continue to tower over you.

            I did explained in very fine detail why the legislation in question does not have anything to do with Judaism, but in your head it is “an aspect of the kulturkampf”

            Since I do not have any viable way to make you realize that your knowledge on subject is too minuscule to be taken into account, you’ll have to remain where you are – on the top of the insurmountable heap of nonsense.

            Reply to Comment
        • JG

          “Thou who do not know shit shalt not have opinion before me”

          Well said, So stfu and go your way, clown

          Reply to Comment
          • JG, you’ve failed to make it clear who it is your heated remark is addressed to.

            Reply to Comment
        • David T.

          In that case you don’t seem to be very observant.

          Reply to Comment
    11. That’s funny: I put a fairly lengthy comment here, trying to analyse “The Trespasser”‘s view, and it appeared normally on the thread, but now it’s disappeared.

      Reply to Comment
    12. I must say to Herr Okets, whoever he is: if you deleted the fairly lengthy comment I made earlier today just because you didn’t like it, that that is not something most of the other contributors to 972 would do. It suggests bigotry.

      Reply to Comment
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