Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

1 Kislev 5763 - November 6, 2002 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









Produced and housed by
Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network











"Red Haifa" Becomes the First City to Levy Heavy Fines for Chilul Shabbos
by Aryeh Zissman

When the administration of Luna Grand in Haifa decided to keep that amusement park open on Shabbos and chagim, the director of the mall where the amusement park is located, Yisrael Sevion, told a Yated Ne'eman reporter, "Religious people don't have to come on Shabbat as far as I'm concerned. I'm convinced they'll come on weekdays."

He was wrong. The observant public organized a boycott and within a few months the amusement park was forced to close.

Recently it reopened, again with Shabbos hours, and it was slapped with an unprecedented fine of NIS 235,000 ($50,000). Luna Park's Shabbos operations drew wide protest by Haifa's shomer mitzvos community last year. At a meeting of the city's rabbonim and the Committee for Shabbos in Haifa it was decided to declare a boycott. The rabbonim also issued a call to visitors from other parts of the country not to patronize the park.

The widespread boycott delivered a serious blow to the expensive, new park built on the lower levels of the Grand Mall. At a news conference to herald the grand opening, Sevion told reporters the amusement park would be open on Shabbos and chagim and that he was not worried about a chareidi boycott, saying he expected to see chareidi children with their families on Motzei Shabbosos and during the week.

The rabbonim showed great concern over Sevion's remarks and insisted they not be overlooked since disregarding such statements could lead many other businesses to open on Shabbos. Before implementing the boycott, personal contacts were made with members of the Grand Park management staff, saying the Shabbos Committee has always struggled alongside the city's rabbonim and the Religious Council against all attempts to bring public Shabbos desecration to Haifa.

Yet all of these efforts proved ineffective. At the very first meeting a decision was reached to organize legal actions to prevent the park from opening on Shabbos. Haifa's Religious Council Chairman David Aviyakam noted at the time that only Labor Ministry intervention in the form of fines would help close the amusement park on Shabbosos.

Where dozens of protests and letters failed, fines succeeded: the Ministry sent Druse Shabbos inspectors whose reports on the employment of Jewish workers--a violation of the Work and Rest Hours Law--led to the hefty fines. In addition to a fixed fine, each Jewish employee means a NIS 5,000 ($1,050) fine for the employer.

Sevion, who is expected to run for mayor, declared the fine represented an act of religious coercion, but his claims were rejected and he was told not to hitch onto religious issues on his way to the mayor's office. Opponents said the status quo has always been maintained in Haifa and that the Grand Mall should not open on Shabbos, partly due to its proximity to religious neighborhoods.

The Haifa Shabbos Committee is hoping the heavy fines will induce Luna Grand to close its doors on Shabbos. The question is whether the Labor Ministry will continue to levy fines or whether it will submit to the pressure exerted on it. Despite the unprecedented fines, the Ministry says the amusement park "got off easy" since the law allows double penalties of NIS 10,000 per employee for repeat offenses.

Luna Park is still unwilling to surrender: last week large ads were placed in newspapers calling on the public to come to the park on Shabbos. As the elections approach, Sevion is trying to jump onto the bandwagon of a political controversy, claiming the Labor Ministry's involvement is political.

Will Haifa's precedent of levying heavy fines for violations of Shabbos laws reach other parts of the country? Only time will tell.


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