Chametz Law? Much Ado Over Nothing

To see how far the politicians pretending to represent Religious Zionism have strayed from its original ideology, we need only look at the religious politicians' furor about nothing over Magistrate Court's Judge Tamar Bar-Asher-Zaban's ruling on the interpretation of the Chametz Law.

There has always been a fundamental difference between the Religious Zionist and the ultra-Orthodox approach to shaping Israel's image as a Jewish state. Religious Zionism recognized that it was impossible, and forbidden, to impose Jewish edicts on citizens by legislation. It did suggest, however, that every effort should be made - through understandings and agreements - to ensure the public expression of the state's character as a Jewish state.

This principle was the basis for Religious Zionism's efforts to base marriage and divorce on halakhic law, believing this would ensure the nation's unity. But unlike the ultra-Orthodox, the movement was never keen on legislation regarding the individual's sexual conduct.

When I chaired the National Religious Party's Knesset faction, I reached an agreement with MK Yossi Sarid to cancel the censorship of movies, but to restrict billboard advertising, which was part of the state's public expression.

This principle was the basis for Religious Zionism's enactment of the Work and Rest Law, which established the Sabbath and Jewish holidays as the state's days of rest. But it never suggested forbidding Jews to drive their cars on Saturday on city streets.

This is why Religious Zionism demanded that the government import only kosher beef, but did not dream of forbidding the existence of non-kosher shops or restaurants. The pork issue was an exception stemming from the symbolism and significance of pork in Jewish history. But here, too, it was my late father, Yisrael Shlomo Ben Meir, who passed a law banning pig breeding in Israel, but nothing further.

The chametz law is also an exception, passed as a response to the flagrant selling of pita during Passover. This not only defied the sensibilities of tens of thousands of Jews going to synagogues or strolling with their families, but showed disrespect for the country's traditions.

Hence the law's precise and limited wording: "A business owner will not put a chametz product on public display." There is no ban on selling chametz or serving it, only on "displaying" it "in public."

The Shas minister who said that the Magistrate Court's ruling was a "a gun to Israel's temple as a Jewish state" was talking complete and utter nonsense. The law was passed in 1986. Was Israel not a Jewish state until then?

It is a great pity that Knesset members pretending to represent Religious Zionism are following the ultra-Orthodox extremism.

The writer is a senior research fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv.