All in Favor / The Pita Principle

Knesset members took advantage of yesterday's special session - called during the Passover recess to debate the law banning sales of chametz during Pesach - to judge the judge who allowed such sales, as well as trying to determine whether selling pita on Passover will destroy the country's Jewish identity.

"The entire Jewish identity of the country depends on pita during Passover?" asked Zahava Gal-On, the head of the Meretz faction. Yes, answered a number of MKs. "There is no Jewish people if there is pitas on Pesach," announced Zevulun Orlev, the head of the National Religious Party.

The religious parties received reinforcements from an unexpected source: "I do not want [someone] to eat chametz in front of me in order to annoy me," Labor Party MK Yoram Marciano told Gal-On.

"Learn to be tolerant of people like me. You want a [gay] pride parade in Jerusalem and to sell chametz on Passover. What else do you want?" said Marciano in rising anger. "Let's abolish the Jewish state," he concluded.

A special recess session may sound dramatic and important, but in practice it is usually two MKs speaking and one minister responding. Knesset Speaker Dalia Itzik saved the session when she decided to allow almost every MK who wanted to speak have their turn at the microphone.

Many of the speakers spent their time handing out grades to Tamar Bar Asher-Zaban, the Jerusalem judge whose municipal court ruling earlier this month allowed the sale of chametz in groceries and restaurants. "I protest the lack of intelligence in understanding the law," said MK Avraham Ravitz (UTJ). "The judge thinks she knows better than the legislators what they intended," complained Shmuel Halpert (UTJ).

"The court has changed places with the Hebrew Language Academy," claimed Orlev. "It seems this ruling is a bit of commentary not intended by lawmakers," he added.

Itzik, who usually remains strictly above the fray, attacked the judge too: "My feeling is that such matters must be determined here and not by the judiciary." Only Ophir Pines-Paz (Labor), chairman of the Interior and Environment Committee, insisted on reminding his colleagues: "The judge, and I know this is hard for you to believe, is religious."

Shas party chairman Eli Yishai promised to change the law, saying the new version would not leave any room for interpretation.

The cabinet sent minister Ruhama Avraham Balila into the debate. At first she tried to make do with: "The judge's decision is a challenge for the cabinet. We must study the matter thoroughly and deeply."

This did not seem to satisfy Shas, as later she tried again, announcing: "The cabinet does not object to the appropriate aims of the law being preserved," or in other words the passage of a law to reinstitute the law. She then said she would support Yishai's bill, which is bad news for the opponents of a new chametz law.