The reaction issued by National Religious Party chairman Zevulun Orlev to yesterday's ruling on the chametz law states: "It is inconceivable that a judge for local matters should rule on grave matters concerning the character of the State of Israel as a Jewish state." When a politician says: "It is inconceivable," it is usually incontrovertible proof that is very much conceivable.
And so, on November 22, 1987 then local Jerusalem judge Ayala Procaccia (now a Supreme Court justice) struck down the municipal bylaw prohibiting the operation of movie theaters on Shabbat. It led to the opening of cinemas on the Sabbath country-wide. True, one cannot compare Judge Tamar Bar Asher-Zaban's rather forced interpretation of the word "public" in yesterday's chametz law ruling to Procaccia's monumental ruling, but the former may also have country-wide implications.
It's hard to think of another law more closely associated with religious coercion than the one bearing the name the Holiday of Matzot Law, otherwise known as the chametz law. Over decades, a new religious-secular status quo has developed in which each side does what it wants in its own territory. Non-observant Israelis shop on Saturday and buy pork. The ultra-Orthodox close off streets on Shabbat and have gender-segregated buses.
The law barring the display of foods that are not kosher for Passover is a particularly blunt attempt by religious Jews to interfere in the conduct of life in secular areas. It just may be the law that secular Israelis most like to violate.
The chametz law has been a dead letter for years. The Knesset information and research department placed it on its list of nonenforced laws. In order to enforce it in any city, the interior minister must appoint inspectors, the attorney general must appoint a prosecutor and the mayor must want the inspectors to come. Only seven municipalities have ever requested inspectors.
Attorney Gilad Barnea, who represented Resto-Bar in the decisive case, says that for two years Jerusalem Mayor Uri Lupolianski's municipality sent inspectors to the restaurant who wrote up tickets that were always canceled because the inspectors were not authorized to issue them.
In fact, until the current four charge sheets were issued, no one had ever been charged with violating the law, much less convicted. Maybe that's why it took 21 years to shelve it. This year we can expect chametz displays in stores and restaurants throughout Israel as never before. And it's all thanks to Uri Lupolianski's municipal government. Who ever said a Haredi mayor was bad for secular Israelis?
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