In a landmark ruling on a deeply contentious issue, the Israeli High Court of Justice headed by outgoing Chief Justice Miriam Naor voted unanimously in favor of extending licensing to supermarkets in Tel Aviv to operate on the Sabbath. “This verdict is based on the principle of live and let live,” Naor said, reading the decision out loud. “My decision is not a value judgment on the desired nature of Shabbat. It is not a secular or a religious decision. It reflects the correct interpretation of the law.”
Naor also rejected the interpretation that the “Law for Hours of Work and Rest” established in 1951 constitutes a blanket ban on opening businesses on Shabbat. She explained that the labor law requiring 36 continuous hours off work per week which includes a rest day according to one’s religion specifically states; employing a citizen to work on his day of rest is prohibited; but does not mean that businesses cannot be opened. As is often the case in Israeli politics, the ruling triggered fierce reactions and political countermeasures to be taken.
“Live and let live” a democratic idiom spanning back to 1678 to which a person has the right to live their own life the way they want to and let others do the same. Its egalitarian creed serves as a shield against oppression and tyranny. The foundation of democracy begins to crack when this right is infringed upon. Freedom of religion is one of many civil rights that fall under this tenant.
Israel does not have a constitution as a basis for judication; rather a formal document of “Basic Laws”. Under the “Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty” many civil rights are listed. However, “Freedom of Religion” is not stated explicitly; judicially it has been extended under the declarations of “human dignity and liberty”.
The courts responsibility to arbitrate the separation of religion and state is much easier to do in country that does not sport a Jewish Star or other self-defining religious symbol on its flag. Israel exemplifies religious tolerance to the various Jewish and non-Jewish faiths in her land. Yet despite the multi pluralism it is very difficult for Israel to separate Judaism and state; as after all it is acknowledged and proudly so as the “Jewish State”. Theodore Herzl the founder of Zionism set out to create a Jewish State in its ancestral homeland. The blue and white flag that bears the Star of David affirms it is not possible to have a Jewish State without Jewish tradition.
Since the days of Sinai, respect of the holy Sabbath remains at the heart and soul of the Jewish faith. All denominations of Judaism accept that it is a day of rest for God and must be recognized as such. In the famed Jerusalem Market, the unspoken brotherly bond between the man donned with religious garb exchanging a ‘Shabbat Shalom’ with the uncovered head is felt. The imitable Jewish State can only be if there is public recognition of the Sabbath nationwide.
In Israel’s sixty-nine years of existence it’s justice system has done a remarkable job to maintain its democratic values. Nonetheless, it’s laws must be within the confines of its Jewish character that demands public vendors remain closed in recognition of the Sabbath.
“My decision is not a value judgment on the desired nature of Shabbat. It is not a secular or a religious decision. It reflects the correct interpretation of the law.”
The Land of Israel, unparalleled in beauty provides human rights and freedoms to its people and provides a safe haven for the varying faiths that grace her land. The justice system cannot accurately interpret separation of religion and state when it’s Basic Laws do not specify religious freedom. In a country that defines itself as Jewish, it laws must be interpreted within those parameters. To uphold democracy, Israel must protect the freedoms and rights of its citizens. Israeli law does not charge its citizens on how they choose or not choose to recognize the Sabbath. Nevertheless, in a country that must uphold its Jewish identity, it’s laws must be interpreted within those margins. Rejecting a motion for vendors remain open on Shabbat does not violate the tenants of “live and let free”, on the contrary it protects the lifeblood of the Jewish State
Editor of BJR
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The opinions expressed herein are my own and do not represent the views of the Buffalo Jewish Review.