Currently in Israel, a big political question that stands is whether grocery stores or other businesses should be open on Saturday (Shabbat, holy day for a large portion of business owners). Currently, the law stands that businesses that are open on Saturday will receive a fine and the responsibility of enforcing that law has been given to the smaller municipalities (from what I understood, some do not bother enforcing the law).

From what I understand (I have not been living in Israel for a while) that argument of both sides is as follows:

  1. For closing businesses on Shabbat: A practicing jewish business-owner may lose in competition to secular businesses that are open on Saturdays (applies largely to grocery stores, such that the law is often referred to as "the grocery-stores law"). As Israel identifies as a Jewish country, it will be immoral to have a practicing jew unable to conduct business because of his belief in Judaism.

  2. Against closing businesses on Shabbat: secular life-style should not be undermined and the government should not enforce laws that are religious, as the country identifies as pluralistic and democratic (freedom of belief and practice).

  3. I am not sure about the enforcement of the law on the Christian and Muslim businesses in Israel (I believe that this is the reason why the law is enforced mainly by municipalities)

As a north-american secular myself, I tend to favor the second argument and it was my very self-sufficient and naive belief that all progressive countries should not enforce laws to conform with a single religion.

However, I have lived in Germany for a while and it just clicked to me that many businesses are not open on Sundays (to the point that it was very difficult to find a place to do groceries on a Sunday since I did not plan well my shopping throughout the week before). I did a small research and figured that there is actually a law enforcing this close-down on Sundays.

I wanted to ask, did the law have any backlash with the secular population of Germany? and if such arose, how was it settled?

Edit: I re-read my second paragraph and realized it may be passive-aggressive. I actually meant: since I became aware of the arguments for/against this law , I realized that is not necessarily an issue that determines a country to be progressive and pluralist, but an issue about relationship of the private with the public.

  • 3
    "which dates to mid-twentieth century" 1919. And weaker predecessors in 1900 and 1891. Back then politics looked very different (and yet so familiar). The German Communist Party was founded in 1918.
    – Peter
    Commented Nov 29, 2019 at 17:37
  • 11
    Some progressive, secular people just like to have a fixed day off during the week even if it means no shopping. Religion doesn't have to be part of it. Commented Nov 29, 2019 at 22:24
  • 4
    When in Rome... As an American who lived in Germany for 6 years, not shopping on Sunday became a relief.
    – M.Mat
    Commented Nov 30, 2019 at 8:08
  • 5
    The German law isn't a religious law, it's a labor protection law.
    – adjan
    Commented Dec 1, 2019 at 13:40
  • 5
    It should be noted that there are far more directly religion-influenced laws in germany, such as the ban on dance and festivities on "Karfreitag" / good Friday, and other christian holidays. Commented Dec 1, 2019 at 21:10

8 Answers 8


Many Germans who have friends and family really enjoy the fact that there is one "common day off" in the week which is the same for all family members. Going to church together has become rather uncommon, but the benefit for the family remains.

Of course one cannot go shopping together on this "common day off," but that's where the golden rule comes in -- treat others as you would want them to treat you. Doctors and nurses work on Sundays. So do bakers and train conductors, television staff and gas station attendants. But as many people as possible get Sunday off.

The Soviets tried to tinker with staggered days off to run factories every day, but this caused a rather unhappy population.

There are occasional complaints of free market advocates who say that shops should be free to open any time they want, provided they can find customers and hire sales clerks. The usual answer is that the Ladenschlussgesetz is an important part of worker protection legislation and shouldn't be given up, because supermarkets and individual sales clerks are not negotiating on a level playing field. Another form of pushback are trade unions who negotiated a bonus for Sunday work. (Trade unions in Germany are stronger than in the US. I don't know about Israel in this regard.)

  • 30
    A secular (German, Belgian, ... ) argument pro closing-sundays (or alternatively: forcing each shop to choose one day of closure a week), is that "the competition" being open 7/7 puts pressure on small/one-man-band shops to also do the same, which will ruin their personal life. If a husband & wife run a shop 7/7, they will NEVER be home together during opening times unless a specific holiday. This either ruins the couple's health/life, or lets a chain take over their business. This is the feeling very much in Belgium, also Italy, and I've heard it from Germans too. Commented Nov 30, 2019 at 21:44
  • while the argument is good, it is also technically forbidden to work sundays unless there is a special need to ask for sunday work via the Grundgesetz, Arbeitszeitgesetz and some more other laws putting strict limits upon it - and the Einkommensteuergesetz §3b sets rules for how much extra pay is needed - 125%. gesetze-im-internet.de/estg/__3b.html
    – Trish
    Commented Dec 1, 2019 at 9:20
  • 5
    In the spirit of "a day off to allow workers to recharge", the lawmakers also wanted to reduce the noise on Sundays. So it's also mostly forbidden to do loud work like mowing your lawn and trucks are not allowed to drive.
    – DarkDust
    Commented Dec 1, 2019 at 10:01

I'm not familiar with Germany but there's a similar law in France, and I guess in a few other countries. The law is amended from time to time and there are quite a lot of exemptions, but the general case is still that most businesses must close every Sunday, and in particular that employees cannot be asked to work on a Sunday.

In France at least the debate is not at all about secularism vs. religious beliefs, it's between free market (right to open for businesses any day of the week) and maintaining social advances (mandatory day off for all workers). For the former the argument is about the economy: if customers want to buy and business want to work on Sundays, why stop them? And for the later the argument is about workers rights: if businesses were allowed to open on Sundays, employees would be coerced to work this day since even if they were allowed to refuse those who refuse would be let go eventually.

tl;dr: the original religious justification is never used in this debate, but Sundays off is considered a social right for workers.

  • 5
    @Trilarion indeed, originally it was Sunday for religious reasons of course, but nowadays it's kept like this mostly by tradition. The same applies for most bank holidays.
    – Erwan
    Commented Nov 30, 2019 at 0:54
  • 29
    @hobbs, the European consensus is that free markets can lead to undesirable outcomes if they are not properly regulated. There are "hidden costs" of breaking up traditional family life which would be carried by society, not the individual employers and workers.
    – o.m.
    Commented Nov 30, 2019 at 6:34
  • 10
    @user76284 I guess the idea behind is that if shops can open they also must otherwise they lose to the competition. If they are open more often, not more is sold but the same amount is sold just during a longer period of time. That means that many must work more for not much gain if at all. We get all less productive. On the other hand, having a free day where everyone recovers from work makes people more productive in the remaining time. That's the theory although I can say that I fully support the the current compromise and I think that the advantages outweigh the disadvantages by far. Commented Nov 30, 2019 at 8:59
  • 11
    @user76284 for unskilled or low-skilled workers, if the choice is between working on Sundays or losing their job then it's not a real choice, so if the employers can decide to open on Sundays then practically the employees would be forced to accept it. That's the same logic as many other protective labor laws in many European countries: maximum hours worked, mandatory health and unemployment insurance, etc.
    – Erwan
    Commented Nov 30, 2019 at 13:49
  • 6
    @hobbs no, we're talking about a law which exists for a long time and that the majority of the people are happy with, so changing the law would require proof that the benefits outweigh the disadvantages. Btw this law is not seen at all as restricting people's ability to support themselves, quite the opposite actually: it's seen as a law (among many other labor laws) which prevents the exploitation of employees by employers.
    – Erwan
    Commented Nov 30, 2019 at 22:00

I know you asked about Germany, but, since the purpose of your question is to ask about government-enforced holidays

as a north-american secular myself

I would encourage you to look up the history of "blue laws" in the US. The last time I checked, Bergen County of NJ (the one right outside of NYC) still makes it virtually illegal to open retail establishments on Sunday. This ends up being quite an inconvenience to the large religious Jewish community living in NYC. They can't shop on Shabbos and they can't shop in most of the NJ malls (which are in the Bergen County). So this excludes their entire weekend.

The blue laws have been litigated all the way up to SCOTUS and it's been ruled that local communities do have a right to enforce off-days rigorously for the purposes of regulating traffic loads on roads and forcing businesses to allow off days for most workers. This is completely secular reasoning.

The only religious element of it maybe in deciding which day of the week must be the off-day. But this is just as likely to be based on simple majority preference rather than on any true religious conviction.

  • and anyway, the establishment clause of the US constitution only applies to the federal government. Technically it also only blocks the federal government from dictating people observe a religion, not from them promoting one or adopting some of its practices as its own (like giving people a day off on a religious holiday). All those atheists who complain about Christmas are very happy to get Christmas day off from work, and Easter monday, and would holler if those days were turned into regular working days for them...
    – jwenting
    Commented Dec 2, 2019 at 5:51
  • 1
    @jwenting The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment was made to apply to the states by the Fourteenth Amendment, as ruled by the Supreme Court in 1947 in Everson v. Board of Education. What the Establishment Clause means is defined by the Supreme Court, and has been ruled, among other things, to block governments from having student-led prayers at graduation ceremonies. It has nothing to do with compelling people to observe a religion; it's the Establishment Clause, not the Free Exercise Clause.
    – prosfilaes
    Commented Dec 2, 2019 at 7:52
  • 1
    @jwenting I find summarizing any group defined merely by religion or lack there of to be likely inaccurate. In this case, complaining about the atheists seems weird, as the post this comment is on mentions the Jews, who historically have felt punished by having to take off Christian holidays as well as Jewish holidays. Forcing Christmas off hurts people who want to take Solstice or New Year's Day or Christmas (January 7th) off.
    – prosfilaes
    Commented Dec 2, 2019 at 8:23

In Germany, even without the Ladenschlussgesetz, working Sundays is constitutionally forbidden under Artikel 140 Grundgesetz (footnote 139) unless altered by law. So shops wouldn't necessarily be able to open on Sundays. Atop that there is the Arbeitszeitgesetz (ArbZG) §9 Abs. 1, which again forbids working on Sundays.

It does however provision to allow it if there is a special need to do so, such as working in a field that can't stop work Sundays (under §10 ArbZG are among others ER and hotels, if stopping production for Sundays would be undue [like shutting down a petrol plant] and for bakeries; in other provision, no workweek may have more than 6 days and may generally not exceed 48 h in 8h days, some exceptions apply to allow 10 h as absolute maximum, no exceptions allowed). A special case of special need is if a town calls for a city-wide Shopping Sunday, which again, takes the shape of a law.

There's a special case of special need for shops that are located in Kurorten, where the Bäderverordnung regulates how often and how long a shop may have open to provide for those guests during the guest-season.

Night work has to be compensated in some way (money or time off) according to § 6 (5) ArbZG, and german courts deem a minimum of 25 % extra pay 'angemessen' (appropriately) in the sense it is written in that paragraph (10 AZR 423/14); the same provision (though with other percentages) is true for Sundays and holidays after §11 ArbZG, additionally demanding to replace the day off on another day within a fortnight. Any work at night, Sunday and holidays can be paid extra without taxes according to the Einkommensteuergesetz (EStG) (~income tax law) §3b, incentivizing to give extra pay. It regulates how much of the extra pay is free of taxes: 25% for working night (20:00-06:00), which is increased to 40% for 00:00 to 04:00 if work started before midnight, and 50% for working Sunday, which is extended to the first 4 hours of the next day if work started before midnight. For 31st December past 14:00 and any holiday between 0:00 and 24:00 it's 125% (with the 4-hour extension like on a Sunday), and on 1st May as well as between 24th December 14:00 and 26th December 24:00 (with the 4-hour extension like on a Sunday) with 150%.

Generally, those are not taken as the amount of extra pay as it is just the amount of extra pay that is tax-free. Only the employment contract and a couple of judications by the BAG do dictate that extra pay (like 25-30% Bonus night pay) and it can be quite different. For example, the German post/DHL does pay, according to this leaflet, a set bonus pay of 30% for Sunday, 35% for easter and some holidays, 135% for holidays during the workweek, 10% for Saturday 13:00-20:00 and 25% for nights.

Note that there are also laws that pretty much prohibit some jobs from working on Sundays: it is illegal to transport goods via truck on Sundays and holidays, unless one can obtain a license which is only valid for one transport and is only allowable to be given if the goods are either extremely time-sensitive or perishable. Note that if you obtain such a license and have non-licenseable goods loaded, this is punished with about 5 times the fine for violating the Sonntagsfahrverbot for trucks over 7.5 tons. This provision under Straßenverkehrsordnung §30. In an extension to this, it is also forbidden to drive such trucks on some highways on Saturdays during the holiday season to alleviate traffic.

All these laws are not about secular vs. religion, they are about worker rights and, in case of the truck-transport prohibitions, to protect the population from undue noise and keep the roads free for the general population for weekend and summer holiday season.

  • similar to the Netherlands then, where in addition to mandating the work week not exceed 40 hours there are also restrictions on the number of hours per week a shop may be open in total, and sunday openings are regulated per city/town but generally disallowed unless special conditions apply (though many cities interpret those very loosely, effectively allowing shops to be open on sundays even though a strict interpretation of the law would disallow it).
    – jwenting
    Commented Dec 2, 2019 at 5:54
  • 1
    @quarague I think it was just a small error: The relevant Article is 140 GG - Footnote 139 (which was originally article 139 of the Weimarer Constitiution) which declares sundays as non-working days
    – Falco
    Commented Dec 2, 2019 at 10:06
  • 1
    A small addition: I think the German Laws regulate the weekly maximum working hours to 48 (8 hours a day, but 6 working days)
    – Falco
    Commented Dec 2, 2019 at 10:08
  • @Falco true and corrected, the general worker though only has 5 days/week in general, even if 6 days/week is the basis of the law.
    – Trish
    Commented Dec 2, 2019 at 14:34
  • @PaŭloEbermann Adressed, added the regulating §6 and 11 ArbZG, which does demand approprate time off or bonus pay.
    – Trish
    Commented Dec 2, 2019 at 14:45

The difference is in enforcement. Since 2006 regulating shopping hours is the concern of the state -- not of the federal German government. Since then, states have loosened their restrictions on shopping hours and business are not fined for violating the rules.

But in Israel they have been. For example in Ashdod:

The Ashdod municipality toughened its enforcement of Sabbath closure laws on Saturday, levying heavy fines on shops and other businesses that remained open. It was the first time in years that the city had taken such measures and follows the passage last month of a law which gives the interior minister more authority to keep stores closed on Saturday.

and Jerusalem:

The Jerusalem municipality announced Tuesday that it will restart its policy of fining mini-markets which remain open on Shabbat, the Jewish day of rest, bringing to an end a two-month lull in enforcement in the wake of a High Court of Justice petition against the practice.

Another difference is that the debated Israeli legislation overrules local municipal ordnances allowing businesses to operate on Shabbath. This difference is significant because many communities in Israel are separated along ethnic or religious lines. Members of Arab communities generally do not observe Shabbath but their businesses would still be required to close on Saturdays.

  • while the hours are, ir is hard to open a shop when you can't have workers come as you can't justify the needed special allowance by claiming a special need.
    – Trish
    Commented Nov 30, 2019 at 18:39
  • 1
    Well, when I visited Berlin a few years ago it wasn't that hard to find convenience stores open on a Sunday. That's why I doubt there is a general ban. If there is, enforcement is either very spotty or it is very easy to get an exemption. Commented Nov 30, 2019 at 20:59
  • 1
    there is a general ban and a lot of ways to get a special permit - you can have a "kiosk" open on sundays, which is a shop that has only limited stuff available. If you are in a trainstation, different rules apply too, but in general there is a blanket ban on sunday work.
    – Trish
    Commented Nov 30, 2019 at 21:31
  • @BjörnLindqvist Thank you for specifying further the Israeli case, because I do think that the law is no different in other European countries and in fact does have the same disadvantages to different parts of the population. From what I understand, it is mainly because Sunday was easy to agree upon in those times that it was easier to digest. I still see it as a religious law, since it is specifically a Sunday and not a day of choice (similar to what the Soviet union has tried to do, Re: first answer).
    – Snifkes
    Commented Dec 2, 2019 at 0:02
  • @BjörnLindqvist if Berlin is like Amsterdam in this, they have an excemption based on the city being "a tourist destination" or something along those lines. There'd still be rules telling what stores can be open, and some may not be allowed to be, but specific categories would be allowed to open on sundays.
    – jwenting
    Commented Dec 2, 2019 at 5:57

The short and simple answer to the question is that nobody remembers if the law had any backlash when it was enacted as nobody remembers it being enacted. Sunday shopping has been prohibited for decades if not centuries. According to the German Wikipedia (which I had to check myself while writing this answer to find this factoid), Sonntagsruhe (the rule of closing shops on Sundays) was enacted in 1919 alongside limiting opening hours to 07:00–19:00 (this was shortened to 18:30 in the Nazi era) Mondays to Saturdays. After the Second World War, Saturday shopping time was shortened so that shops had to close at 2 pm.

Since then, the only changes had been gradual expansions of the allowed period. It began with advent Saturdays (open until 6 pm) in 1960; then in 1989 shops were allowed to remain open until 8.30 on Thursdays (except Maundy Thursday); in 1996 the new law said Mondays to Fridays 06:00–20:00 Saturdays until 16:00; in 2003 Mondays to Saturdays 06:00–20:00 (except on Christmas Eve where shops must close at 2 pm).

In 2006 the competence was removed from the federal government and handed to the state governments as part of the federalism reform. Since then, opening hours vary by state. Bavaria has not changed the previous federal 2003 laws, other states have permitted opening hours until as late as midnight Monday to Saturday. No state has touched the Sunday prohibition and there is no majority of the population in support of that.

There have always been exceptions to Sunday closing e.g. for traveller supplies and afaik bakeries. If these have been changed in recent years, they have also only been relaxed.


In Bavaria – one of the 16 german states – the Ladenschlussgesetz is even more restrictive.

With a few exceptions, such as for bakeries and gas stations, shops have to close between 20:00 (8pm) and 06:00 (german source) Monday-Saturday and have to be closed on Sundays.

Even though that I, as software engineer, would only profit from prolonged opening hours, I don't support them. It only means that poor people, who don't find a better-paying job, have to stay in the shop longer.

On a side note, when I visited Vienna, many shops tended to close at 18:00, but that might have changed.


I wanted to ask, did the law have any backlash with the secular population of Germany? and if such arose, how was it settled.

In short: No.

The law is entirely of secular nature, it has zero bearing towards religion.

About 140-150 years ago, it was perfectly normal for a shop owner to have the shop open on Sunday. Then came, with industrialization, big warehouses which were drastically exploiting employees. And, subsequently, unrest followed by a law that somewhat limited what abuse people had to tolerate. While the idea of preventing warehouse owners from exploiting and abusing people too harshly was good, as often the bureaucrats went overboard and created something over the decades that doesn't really make much sense, but it persists.

Germany's present-day law is a heritage of Nazi law (which itself is a more strict heritage of Bismarck-era law) somewhat relaxed, and then again strictened, mixed with a variety of amendments, most of them made by demand of labour unions, and then again with many more or less obscure exceptions.

There have been and there are always exceptions, and there's something differently regulated almost every year. None of it has to do with religion, it's all very secular and "practical". There exist verkaufsoffene Sonntage around Christmas, for example. Or there was (still is? not sure?) the thing with shops being open until 8pm on Thursday.
Bakeries are allowed (since this year, I believe?) to open on Sunday. Some others are allowed, too, but only if they serve coffee, whatever. Nobody can really understand how it works, or how it's supposed to make sense at all. Gas stations have been allowed to sell (not just gasoline) throughout the night since pretty much forever.

The population is somewhat half-half split insofar as to wish going shopping on Sunday, but then again people don't want to completely abolish the law either (or, heaven forbid, work on Sunday).
Every now and then, there's a bit of mild discussion, some polls, some statistics on TV news, and sometimes an amendment which doesn't really change much. There's no "backlash" because there's no real issue, it's merely an annoyance that people have grown used to. Very much like daylight saving time (which, incidentially, is Nazi heritage, too). You just have to plan for the weekend properly, or you may end up being hungry.

Similar situation e.g. in France where two or three years ago labour unions filed lawsuits against a large perfume/beauty store for being open in the evening and a large hardware store for being open on Saturday. Which is just great, as in closing the shop exactly when the customers have time to go shopping, making both customers and employees (whose jobs are at stake) unhappy. But at least the union can tell that they achieved something. It doesn't need to make sense.

  • 1
    This is a rant, not an answer, and gets more facts wrong then right. DST is observed in Germany & Austria since April 30th, 1916, long before the Nazis came to power. The population isn't half-split but widely in support of Sundays off. You barely get 1/3rd of the population to support abolishment of the sales ban on Sundays. Support for the abolishment of the free Sundays is far lower. Yes, some people want to shop on Sundays, but very few actually want to work more on Sundays.
    – Polygnome
    Commented Dec 3, 2019 at 0:25
  • More points that are off: bakeries have been allowed limited opening on Sundays for pretty much my entire life, the rule about 8 pm on Thursdays was two or three decades ago (now states make the closing time laws; Bavaria is most restrictive and last I checked allowed 07:00–20:00 Mon–Sat), open Sundays are not limited to Christmas time. Maybe there’s more wrong I missed.
    – Jan
    Commented Dec 3, 2019 at 13:04
  • @Polygnome: Get your facts right, please. DST was abolished immediately after World War 1 since it was deemed useless (both in civil times and as thought to save resources for war). Nazis re-established it in 1940, and that is what we still have now.
    – Damon
    Commented Dec 3, 2019 at 14:40

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .