The Tel Aviv Religious Council on Tuesday sent a letter to the management of the Gindi Holdings Group that runs the Sarona Market compound in the coastal city, protesting fines issued by the company against the owner of a kosher store who refused to open his shop on Shabbat.
In the letter, the religious council noted that there are several kosher stores in the compound – and that in order to be certified as kosher the stores must observe the Sabbath day of rest according to Jewish law. Those kosher stores include a branch of the food retail chain Henry's.
"We were shocked to hear that you demanded that the owner of the store's permit open his shop on Shabbat, and when he refused to do so you decided to fine him 3,000 shekels (nearly $800) for every Shabbat that his store is closed," wrote Tel Aviv Religious Council head Eldad Mizrahi to the Gindi company.
"Without elaborating on the value of Shabbat observance, it is unthinkable that there be a situation in which a business owner and his workers are forced to work on the day of rest against their will, their worldview and their conscience, and in opposition to the law concerning work hours and rest," continued Mizrahi.
He noted that this pressure "is anti-religious coercion by all accounts, and we do not accept it."
The religious council head emphasized that the fine constitutes discrimination against the wider Shabbat and kashrut observing public in the Jewish state of Israel, and therefore "we cannot just stand by."
Mizrahi called on the Gindi Holdings Group to immediately take back its demand from the store owner to desecrate Shabbat, and to respect the wishes of business owners that want to observe the day of rest.
The response of the company has yet to be received.
Ne'emanei Torah Va'Avodah, a religious Zionist movement dealing with issues of religious legislation, responded to the reports by saying it "is saddened that there are those in business who don't view Shabbat as having any value other than the monetary worth of the profit of a day's entertainment at their compound."
"The attempt to exclude a (religiously) traditional business owner who sees in Shabbat the value of rest for him and his workers is very bad for Israeli society at large; just as religious coercion forcing full Shabbat observance causes damage, so too the secular coercion preventing the regulation of Shabbat's status in Israeli society in our days causes harm to the Shabbat, those who observe it and the Jewish nature of the state of Israel."
The movement concluded by saying, "the situation today in which every regional authority or private entrepreneur does as they please cannot continue anymore, and we must aspire to reach as wide as possible of an agreement regarding the status of Shabbat in Israel and regulate it anew."