SABBATH SHOPPERS

There is conflict in Tel Aviv over keeping the Sabbath day holy versus shopping! In America, this doesn’t seem like a big deal, but in Israel, where they take the Jewish Sabbath day seriously, it is a big deal. Every Saturday, thousands of shoppers head for the trendy Tel Aviv Port shopping mall, the city’s busiest outdoor retail promenade. But one of those thousands happens to be the City Inspector who visits each store issuing $200 citations to the business owners because they are violating Tel Aviv’s city ordinance against conducting business on the Jewish Sabbath.

As soon as the City Inspector is spotted, many of the business owners alert other shops about his presence. At that time, they chase out their customers and close their doors until the Inspector passes by. Some of the larger businesses just take the $200 hit as it is a drop in the bucket compared to the money they will take in that day.

National law prohibits employing Jews on Saturday, however, the enforcement of that law is sporadic and usually dependent on the religious conviction of the inspector of that day.

So, the conflict continues and worsens. On one side are secular and religiously-tolerant consumers and business owners. Business owners have prospered in Israel’s economic growth and consider their country more like a modern, Western-leaning society much like the United States. There was a day, in my own lifetime, when most US businesses were not open on their holy day, Sunday. There was no law in place, but those with religious convictions did not open their businesses on Sunday and the communities preferred not to shop on Sundays.

Many business owners in Israel feel it is outrageous that they are fined for being open on Saturdays because Israelis love to shop. On average, the retailers who are open on Saturdays take in 40% of their weekly sales on that one day of the week. As many as half a million shoppers visit a mall every Saturday.

On the other hand, are leaders of Israel’s ultra-Orthodox community known as haredim, who quote the Biblical commands to observe the Sabbath. “We have no right to the land of Israel without observing the Torah and its commandments,” said Shmuel Pappenheim, a spokesman for an umbrella group of heredi organizations. “If we don’t follow it and preserve the Sabbath, we might as well give up our claim and give it to the Arabs.” He is concerned and asks: If Israel doesn’t honor the biblical commands about observing the Sabbath, who will.

The trend is increasing to ignore the national law about honoring the Sabbath in Israel and keeping commerce moving ahead. In America, one Christian group has chosen to stand out among the crowd and close their franchise businesses on Sundays. Chick-fil-A is an American chain headquartered in Atlanta, specializing in chicken entrees and is known for promoting the company founder’s Christian values and closes its doors to encourage their employees to worship God on Sundays.

Because of the lust for profits in Israel, will they become more like the United States with only few businesses closed to honor God one day a week? If Israel wants to be known as the “Jewish State,” should they enforce their already-written laws to observe the Sabbath as the Torah requires?

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