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Attorney General Menachem Mazuz announced yesterday that the state will not appeal a Jerusalem court's decision earlier this month to withdraw charges against local business owners who had displayed chametz on their premises during Pesach in previous years.

Magistrate's Court Judge Tamar Bar Asher-Zaban ruled that the businesses had not displayed the leavened products during Pesach in public, as prohibited by law.

Mazuz said the Festival of Matzot Law was not intended to prohibit the sale or consumption of chametz, but only its public display for sale or consumption.

As such, it would preclude the display in the public space, such as a street stall, an open-air market or a display case facing the street, but not within the closed confines of a place of business.

"Get ready for battle," exclaimed posters affixed to the walls in Jerusalem's ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods. After Mazuz's announcement and the failure of the Haredi parties to change the "chametz law," the extremist Eda Haredit sect has joined the fray. Members of the community are planning a series of protest actions for next week, during Pesach.

The first stage was a campaign that began yesterday with attempts to dissuade Jerusalem business owners from selling chametz in their establishments.

'Terrible rumor'

About 60 restaurateurs and store owners received letters from the Eda imploring them not to take advantage of the court ruling. "With great pain and fear we heard a terrible rumor that you are planning to sell chametz during the Pesach festival," the rabbis wrote.

"We are confident that the punishment for blasphemy, especially in the Holy City, is very severe and the responsibility will be yours alone."

The Eda is planning to hold mass demonstrations against the court ruling next week as well as to post a protest guard against businesses that sell chametz.

Shas chairman Eli Yishai said his party will act after the holiday to amend the "chametz law" as to completely prohibit the sale of chametz during Passover. "We'll submit a bill even if it contradicts the government's position," Yishai said yesterday. "The people of Israel can rest assured, by next year the sale of chametz will be completely outlawed."

MK Moshe Gafni (United Torah Judaism" said Mazuz' decision was a mistake because "we all know that the law isn't intended to prohibit the sale or eating of chametz. The law is intended to enable everyone to travel during Pesach in the country's cities and malls and to enable the public existence of the state, as is usual in this type of matter."

Forgotten role

Rabbis from the Tzohar Forum of Rabbis, on the liberal side of religious Zionism, said that Mazuz' decision "reinforces the sense that the legal system has become a focus of democratic thought that has forgotten its role in shaping the face of the state as Jewish, not just democratic.

However, Tzohar also said in a statement, "religious legislation on one hand and interference in the legal system on the other, are not a substitute for a probing discussion by Israeli society of common identity and symbols that is so necessary to reinforcing the Jewish identity of the State of Israel."

Anat Hoffman, executive director of the Reform movement's Israel Religious Action Center in Jerusalem, described Mazuz's decision as "balanced and sane," adding: "When will the religious MKs realize already that the Jewish identity of the State of Israel lies not on our plates but rather in our hearts."