All in Favor / Itzik Clears Out the Chametz

Wondrous are the ways in which the wheels of history turn. Had the Knesset session ended as planned last Wednesday, and not two weeks ago as it did, the ultra-Orthodox parties would have had an entire week to pass a bill nullifying the effect of the recent municipal court decision in Jerusalem which ruled that grocery stores and restaurants can sell chametz during Pesach because they are not "public" places in which the sale of leavened products is prohibited by law during the Passover festival. Although it was the coalition who really wanted to shorten the Knesset session, it was the ultra-Orthodox parties who came to its rescue, arguing that they needed the time to prepare for Passover.

It's no coincidence that the ultra-Orthodox parties want to pass a new law forbidding the sale of chametz before even one Pesach passes in which chametz is freely available. In Israel, once a precedent has been set and people have grown accustomed to it, it's very difficult to turn the clock back. United Torah Judaism MK Avraham Ravitz scrambled to pass a bill during the Knesset recess that would remove the words "in public" from the existing law. He turned to Knesset Speaker Daliah Itzik and asked that she allow his bill to be voted on during the parliamentary recess because of the "urgency of the issue." Itzik turned him down yesterday. Knesset secretary Eyal Yanun wrote to Ravitz in Itzik's name, explaining that private member's bills have only been passed during a Knesset recess in exceptional cases, such as the Second Lebanon War. "Your request does not count as such an instance," Yanun wrote.

Yanun, until recently the deputy attorney general, revealed two unknown details about the affair in his letter. The first is based on the fact that the ruling was made by a municipal court, and may not apply to other courts. Yanun writes that "following my inquiries with the attorney general and the Jerusalem municipality's legal adviser, it transpires that the method of enforcing the law this Pesach has yet to be determined. It is unclear what implications the ruling has or whether it will influence the status quo concerning chametz."

Yanun also brings Ravitz's attention to the fact that the judge's decision is "seemingly identical" to the one presented to the High Court in 2002 on behalf of then attorney general Elyakim Rubinstein and then interior minister Eli Yishai, of Shas. "[The attorney general has ordered inspectors] not to enforce the law upon a proprietor who displays chametz inside the area of the store. Instructions are to focus on owners who present leavened products in a public area or on counters facing a public area or in a shop window." In truth, it seems Judge Tamar Bar-Asher Zaban's ruling is much more far-reaching than Yanun admits. Still, grocery stores and restaurant owners will no doubt be happy to know that that they can display chametz inside their businesses, with Rubinstein and Yishai's blessing.

Itzik has decided to hold a special debate over the judge's ruling this Monday, but a debate is not a reading and has no practical implications. The ultra-Orthodox MKs, however, will be able to let off steam; and the Haredi papers will report on this.