Saturday, August 17, 2019 -
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Sabbath tranquililty in Jerusalem is not a given

Which would be preferable: a supermarket that serves all elements in the community, or a supermarket that serves only one element? Our preference would be the more broad-based supermarket.

In Israel, one supermarket chain, Shefa Shuk, has branches in religious neighborhoods throughout Israel. The owner of the chain keeps other, different food stores of his open on Shabbat. Members of the religious community asked him to close all his stores on Shabbat. He refused.

Two consequences have unfolded: a) his stores are largely boycotted in the religious neighborhoods; b) a rival has announced plans to open a chain of supermarkets that will cater to religious clientele. All the food will be kosher, all the stores will be closed on Shabbat, and speciality items will be available.

Change gears, for a moment. Here are two contradictory impulses: Every visitor to Jerusalem, bar none, loves its Sabbath peace. Shabbat there, it is truly felt, is different from Shabbat anywhere else. That’s one impulse. The contradictory impulse is this: How dare a government engage in religious coercion! There should be no government-imposed religious standards in Israel! Well, if there were no government-imposed standards, closing down, for example, public transportation on Shabbat, there would be no public Sabbath peace in Jerusalem. It would be a noisy, average metropolis, lacking all public semblance of Sabbath peace. Every ideal of the Torah, such as Shabbat, entails a corresponding sacrifice, and the Jewish state has acknowledged this — to the eternal gratitude of visitors to the Holy City.

For a grocery chain owner simply to acknowledge the sanctity and the centrality of the Sabbath, he could have prevented another major step in the fracture of Israeli society. But no, he had to keep his stores open on the Sabbath. In the end, his move was bad for business, bad for religion and bad for Israeli social cohesion.

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