Israel launches credit card that keeps Sabbath

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The Independent Online

Israel's Orthodox shoppers are to be offered the world's first kosher credit card. While much of the rest of the world is maxing out at the mall on Saturday an Israeli bank is pioneering a new line of plastic that will help in resisting the temptation to shop on the Sabbath.

Bank Leumi is preparing to launch a credit card that actively bans any spending on the Jewish day of rest.

Religious leaders have pointed out that there is a gap in the market for a credit card which fits in with the lifestyle of the Orthodox community, hundreds of thousands of whom do not carry a credit card and refuse to drive, use electricity or make telephone calls on the traditional holy day.

"It's an initiative that started among religious people," a Bank Leumi spokesman Guy Keider told the BBC.

Leumi, one of Israel's biggest banks, in partnership with a group of ultra-Orthodox and business-savvy Israelis, has now responded by unveiling plans for the Leumicard, which works when strict Jews work, and rests when they rest.

The card, expected to be launched in the coming few weeks, will be handled by Visa and Mastercard but will only be honoured in shops whose owners are observant of the rules of the Sabbath. Any transactions attempted on the Jewish day of rest will be rejected.

But the project, though undoubtedly holy, is hardly untainted by the motivation of materialistic gain. The estimated market for the new card is about 10 million shekels (£1.2m) a month - not something the brains behind the Leumicard would have overlooked.

One of the key figures involved in the project, Meir Porush, who is a member of Israel's Knesset, claims that more than 100,000 members of the Orthodox community have already given their support to the Leumicard, signing commitments not to shop at establishments that disobey the Sabbath rules.

All of which is rather handy for the card's other major backer, Rabbi Rafael Halperin, who owns a chain of opticians that close on Saturdays.

The chief executive of Bank Leumi, Galia Maor, told the daily newspaper, Haaretz, that the bank has had to overcome two significant problems since taking on the Leumicard "challenge."

Security has had to be tightened to ensure that surreptitious Sabbath sales cannot slip through the net.

The bank has also had to whip up the desire to spend among a traditionally non-consumerist section of society. Orthodox Jews do not have a reputation as big spenders.

"We therefore had to learn about the population and to verify that we could grant a credit card to all of them and not just some," Ms Maor said.