I dan Abuhav relishes his role as the secular attorney leading the fight to keep shops in Tel Aviv and elsewhere in Israel closed on Shabbos. The outspoken Abuhav has built a private practice in Ramat Gan that specializes in representing citizens’ groups in their legal battles against the government and the courts. As the attorney for the Association (Secular) for Saturday Free of Commerce Abuhav will battle to reverse the Supreme Court’s recent precedent-setting decision to grant permits to 160 Tel Aviv businesses to breach the prohibition against work on the holiest day of the week.
What are your major legal objections to the Supreme Court ruling?
First of all I want to avoid placing the entire blame on the Supreme Court. Two successive governments have avoided making any decisions or passing any legislation to clear this matter up. So we can’t exactly complain about the courts when the legislative body of the Jewish state faltered in embarrassing fashion on such a core Jewish issue.
In all fairness for decades the Supreme Court defended Shabbos closings on the grounds that you can’t force people to work and that the concept of Shabbos meant that no work be performed in public. However the court’s recent ruling on Tel Aviv represents a change in their approach and an explicit acknowledgment that they are reconsidering this core issue. In short the Supreme Court said for the first time that they are ready to “talk” about a different kind of Shabbos in Israel.
Can the ruling be applied broadly allowing businesses to open in other Israeli cities as well?
Absolutely. Tel Aviv is just the opening salvo. A close reading of the court’s decision leads one to conclude that the Supreme Court is willing to consider allowing the large shopping malls to open on Shabbos but there is still one catch — businesses that open on Shabbos will be prohibited from hiring Jews to work that day.
Many shopping centers are already open aren’t they?
Regretfully true and that can proliferate causing even more grief to those of us who remember how Shabbos — the secular brand not the religious one — was once observed here. I say the following from my secular worldview. Tel Aviv still retains a Shabbos-observant character compared to many other Israeli cities. Go north of Tel Aviv and that’s where you begin to see the traffic jams on the coastal roads on Shabbos all the way up to the Zichron Yaakov area.
What approach are you taking to try to stop this phenomenon from spreading?
Our position is that opening a place of business on Shabbos is illegal because it violates the Work and Rest Hours Law [requiring all workers to have 36 consecutive hours of time off from work once a week]. The Ministry of Labor which is responsible for enforcing this law looks the other way as long as the businesses that stay open are not employing Jews. We think this interpretation is fallacious and is not grounded in either the wording or the spirit of the Work and Rest Hours Law. Furthermore opening businesses on Shabbos in malls creates competitive pressures on businesses inside the cities to open as well. What difference does it make if Jews or Arabs are at work when the character of Shabbos is being destroyed?
Does it make any real difference to you as a secular Jew or the secular group you represent if a Jew or non-Jew works on Shabbos?
It’s not a question of who’s working. We are discussing a violation of the public principle of Shabbos. Instead of peace and quiet we get shopping centers teeming with people. The character of Shabbos is being replaced by consumerism and commercialism.
And I’ll tell you something else. I support equality and human rights. This includes the rights of business owners not to be put under competitive pressure to open their businesses on Shabbos. It disturbs their rest. Again I say this without an iota of religious coercion. I am not asking anyone to go to synagogue because I don’t go either. But it’s a basic right of every Jew wherever he is to rest one day a week whether he is an atheist heretic traditional or religious. Shabbos is our common national denominator.
It sounds as if you have your own personal sense of urgency here. Can you explain that through the eyes of a secular Israeli?
Shabbos has a national and social value and there is a large secular public that is keeping silent on this matter. Since the inception of the state Shabbos has always been the day of rest for the worker and a national vacation day. Of course I know the source for Shabbos is directly from the Tanach but even the secular intellectual founders of the state like Berl Katznelson and Chaim Nachman Bialik spoke about Shabbos as a day of rest. Shabbos is not something that belongs only to the religious. It is built into our DNA. To rest and spend time with the immediate family and with relatives. This is a basic right of every person.
What stance would you recommend the chareidi community take when it comes to speaking out publicly on this issue?
I will give you my personal opinion. Religious rights are no longer popularly accepted by the secular decision makers. We need to couch this in legalities and personal freedom and talk about the character of a public day of rest that enriches our lives. In Germany the federal constitutional court has upheld laws limiting openings of businesses on Sunday. In Belgium it is forbidden to employ workers on Sunday. [Article 2 of the European Social Charter says that member states should agree to ensure a weekly rest period that shall as far as possible coincide with the day recognized by tradition or custom in the country or region concerned –Ed.] So why do we in Israel insist on infringing on our weekly traditional day of rest? (Originally featured in Mishpacha Issue 662 – Special Shavuos Edition 2017)
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