This Passover will be different. Restaurants, grocery stores and pizza parlors will all be able to sell their bread and pitas without fear. That does not mean more people will be eating bread this year on Passover. However, if the ultra-Orthodox public continues to put pressure on society, this might just come about.
If more people eat bread on Passover, it will not be because of the court ruling allowing it, but because of the rage felt by the non-religious majority at the religious wheeler-dealers and extremist rabbis, who are trying to force us into a lifestyle we don't believe in. After all, it is written in the Bible: "But the more they afflicted them, the more they multiplied and grew."
"There is no reason to turn the court's ruling into a culture war," said Prime Minister Ehud Olmert at a cabinet meeting early this week. He is worried about Shas' threat to turn the chametz issue (leavened food forbidden on Passover) into a political crisis. But in practice, a culture war is underway between those who want to turn religious law into law, and those who want to live in a modern country with a humanistic Western legal system. A country where religion remains outside the public arena and is the private domain of every individual, without coercion.
Last Thursday the Jerusalem Municipal Court allowed the sale of chametz in restaurants and stores during Passover, as long as it is not displayed in a "public place," but in a "closed place." In other words, as long as chametz is sold inside a restaurant or store and is not on display outside, the present law allows its sale.
This is a logical interpretation because to see the chametz, passersby must enter the business, but they don't have to if they don't want to. This is like someone eating chametz at home - it certainly does not bother anyone else. Everyone has a right to follow his own religious practices, but in exactly the same way we need to protect the right of others not to keep the same practices.
Shas leader Eli Yishai sees the issue rather differently. As a result of the ruling, he filed a bill to explicitly outlaw "any sale of chametz on Passover." He is sure this is the way to draw the Jewish people closer to their religion. Not in a pleasant way, not by convincing them, not through education and study of the true message of the holiday (the exodus from slavery to freedom) - but by external coercion, which obviously will not achieve the desired results.
The Chametz Affair blew up on the very same day the ultra-Orthodox boycott by the Rabbinical Committee for the Sanctity of the Sabbath against David Wiessman's Dor Alon group made news. The rabbis ordered their followers not to shop in the chains owned by Dor Alon: Blues Square, Shefa Shuk and AM:PM, because AM:PM is open on Saturdays.
But this stance is problematic. Many tycoons own businesses that are open on the Sabbath. There has not been a boycott, for example, on Lev Leviev's businesses - Leviev owns 26 percent of AM:PM. Nor, for example, has there been one on Zadik Bino, the controlling owner of First International Bank and Poalei Agudat Israel Bank - which does its business in the ultra-Orthodox sector. Bino also controls Paz Oil Company, which operates its Yellow chain of convenience stores on Saturdays. And what about Nochi Dankner? His businesses include Super-Sol and Israir Airlines, which flies on Saturdays and holidays.
So there is not really an all-out war here, but an attack on the weakest link. After it breaks and the rabbis prove their strength, they will attack the next link.
That is why the non-religious majority must counterattack. In response to the drop in sales of the Shefa Shuk supermarket chain, which has 10 big branches in ultra-Orthodox centers, the non-religious public should organize themselves and demonstrate that they, too, have power.
I can remember the days when not a single grocery store or supermarket was open on Saturday, and anyone who forgot to buy milk on Friday was stuck without it until Sunday. The non-religious public must fight back and do their Passover shopping at Shefa Shuk. Prices are reasonable there, too. Just as the public staged a shopping campaign in Sderot to help the city, it is only right that it do so again now, in its own interest. If we do not stop religious coercion today, it will control us tomorrow.
It is clear the ultra-Orthodox public has no intention of stopping. It feels strong. Shas feels it is holding Olmert, and all of us, by a very sensitive location. But Shas is exactly like the characters in a Greek tragedy whose sins were hubris, pride and haughtiness.
Shas is sure it can force its worldview on the majority through brutal legislation. But just as in a Greek tragedy - he whose sin is hubris will be punished, and maybe this time the punishment will come in the form of a revolt by a non-religious majority.
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