Proposed Bill Approves Fines and Jail Time for Business Owners Open on Sabbath

“Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates.” (Exodus 20:9-10)

The Ministerial Committee for Legislation voted on Sunday to approve a bill which will levy fines and prison time on owners of businesses that are open on the Jewish Sabbath without special permission.

Called the “Weekly Day of Rest Bill”, the controversial piece of legislation states that no business may be open on a day of rest, including not only the Jewish Sabbath on Saturdays but on other religious days of rest as well, unless it has received special permission from the economy minister.

The bill excludes restaurants, bars, similar public places of entertainment, gas stations, and pharmacies.

The economy minister may choose to allow a business to stay open on Saturdays if it is a matter of national security, bodily or property security, the national economy, or of supplying services which the minister deems necessary.

Businesses are also forbidden from making employee contracts dependent on working on the Sabbath or from demanding that employees pay damages for not working on the day of rest.

Business owners found to be in violation of the law could face up to a year in prison or a fine of at least NIS 4,000 for each instance of the law being broken.

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As written, the current law on the books makes provisions protecting employees from being forced to work on their days of rest – Fridays for Muslims, Saturdays for Jews, and Sundays for Christians – and states that business owners should not open their businesses on the Sabbath. However, it does not actually outlaw the opening of the business on the Sabbath.

The bill will go to a preliminary Knesset vote on Wednesday, where the proposal is likely to be moderated somewhat.

MK Miki Zohar (Likud), who introduced the bill, said that the legislation is “an impressive and historic achievement for the State of Israel, which will help the public and anyone who is interested in resting and enjoying time with his family on Israel’s weekly day of rest, which is Saturday.”

However, the bill is encountering stiff resistance from other lawmakers, who have called it “draconian” and “bizarre” and claim that if passed, the bill “will end, divine, and destroy the State of Israel from within,” according to MK Yoel Razbozov (Yesh Atid).

Razbozov pointed out that most Israeli Jews do go out on the Jewish Sabbath, and that many people, including soldiers, students, and immigrants, would be harmed by the bill as they rely on the income they earn by working on Saturdays.

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked (Jewish Home), who recently proposed a Knesset committee which would work to implement more Jewish laws in the Israeli legal system, did not comment on the bill.

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