Over 10,000 people, almost all of them haredim, held a mass prayer rally in a haredi neighborhood in the southern Israeli port city of Ashdod yesterday to protest a new shopping center that is open on Shabbat.
More Than 10,000 Haredim Protest Shabbat Violation In Ashdod, Demand Shopping Center Be Forced To Close
Shmarya Rosenberg • FailedMessiah.com
Over 10,000 people, almost all haredim, held a mass prayer rally in a haredi neighborhood in the southern Israeli port city of Ashdod yesterday to protest a new shopping center that is open of Shabbat, the Jewish sabbath, Ha’aretz reported.
The Big Fashion Shopping Center opened approximately two months ago and has 140 retail stores and other businesses located in it.
Haredim and many other Orthodox Jews claim opening the shopping center on Shabbat violates the religious status quo. They want the shopping center closed on Shabbat, while much of the secular population of the city wants it open.
Ashdod is Israel's fifth-largest city. 40% of its population are haredim, and most of those are hasidim, many from the Gur (Ger; Gerrer) sect.
"A huge public came to cry the cry of the Shabbat and to hold prayer. We ask that the day of rest be respected, just like the rest of the holy days. If someone opens a store on Memorial Day there's a fine – there's no reason it shouldn't be the same way on the Shabbat…The complex's CEO told us that he doesn't rely on our clientele, and that says it all. It's inappropriate behavior," Avi Amsalem, a member of city board, told Ha’aretz.
Ten out of 27 representatives on the city board are haredim. They threatened to leave the city's governing coalition en masse unless the city forced the shopping center to close on Shabbat.
The city said that just like other businesses located on the city's outskirts and by the sea, the shopping center would remain open.
"The municipality's stance, which has been conveyed to the rabbis, is that the city outskirts and their surroundings…are part of the 'status quo' [i.e., are located in areas where entertainment venues, stores and restaurants have always been open on Shabbat] and no change will be made with regards to them. Ashdod's character reflects the fabric of the different cultures, sectors, and publics that make it up. Everyone lives one alongside the other with mutual respect and a belief that coexistence hinges on the basic belief in 'live and let live,'" a spokesman for the city government told Ha’aretz.
Big Fashion’s local management reportedly said staying open on Shabbat was both a matter of the status quo for the area and a matter of economics.
“…Businesses have been operating on the outskirts of Ashdod [on Shabbat] for years now. As long as business is conducted on Saturdays anywhere that constitutes competition, we will allow the stores [in our mall] to continue operation. Only if all competition on Saturdays ceases will we reconsider our operations,” Big Fashion’s local management said.