Chametz in Israeli Hospitals on Passover Harms 'Right to Life,' Rabbinate Says

Rabbinate tells High Court that ban on food that isn't kosher for Passover is in keeping with Israel’s values and that it is legitimate to require hospital staff to enforce it

FILE PHOTO: Adolescent ward at Tel Hashomer Hospital, 2017.
Ilan Assayag

Israel’s chief rabbinate argues that allowing chametz – food that isn’t kosher for Passover – into hospitals during the holiday would seriously violate the fundamental legal principles of the right to life, equality and freedom of religion. In response to a petition filed with the High Court of Justice in early October, the rabbinate also argues that allowing chametz in hospitals would be misleading to the public.

The rabbinate asked the court to reject the petitions that have been filed against the ban on chametz. Another hearing is scheduled for November 20.

A year and a half after Adalah and the Secular Forum petitioned the court against the chametz ban, the rabbinate maintains that the only solution to the dispute is to preserve the status quo, arguing that the ban on chametz in hospitals is in keeping with Israel’s values as a Jewish and democratic state, and that it is legitimate to require hospital staff to enforce the ban, just as they are required to enforce many other rules.

In March, Justices Neal Hendel, Uzi Fogelman and Ofer Grosskopf issued an injunction requiring the government to explain why disposable plates and cutlery could not be used, or some other proportionate solution, and why hospital security guards should be involved in the enforcement of kashrut.

On October 3, the rabbinate submitted a 38-page response, in which Rabbi Yaakov Sabag, head of the rabbinate’s kashrut department, addresses two proposed solutions – the establishment of “chametz zones” and the use of disposable dishes.

He writes that either option would, “with ‘near-certainty’ create major problems for the kashrut of the hospitals and ultimately deceive and defraud the public, and seriously violate fundamental legal values such as the right to life (as kashrut-observers may refrain from obtaining vital medical care during Passover), the principles of equality and freedom of religion, and also give rise to fierce and unnecessary disputes and social tensions with unforeseeable consequences.”

The rabbinate argued that preserving the Passover status quo in hospitals is also a “national value” and that the hametz ban is one of the main symbols of life in Israel. The rabbinate says its aim is to prevent a place that presents itself as kosher for Passover from leading kashrut-observers to consume chametz during the holiday.

It also says that while there is no law that explicitly requires hospitals to observe kashrut, the hospitals do so.

The rabbinate argues that the designation of “chametz zones” in outdoor areas of the hospital would very likely lead to kosher and non-kosher food getting mixed together, and that the use of disposable dishes and cutlery could endanger patients’ lives and cause a host of problems.

The Health Ministry has previously objected to this proposal, saying it is not technically or economically viable and would also be very harmful to the environment.

The rabbinate compared kashrut enforcement to the enforcement of other rules in medical institutions, citing bans on loud music, guns, animals and limiting visiting hours as “impinging on a person’s free choice,” but which everyone clearly agrees are necessary.

Adalah, the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, denounced the arguments.

“As if it weren’t enough that the rabbinate is trying to impose religious laws on the entire public, now it also wants to expand the definition of the core characteristics of the state’s Jewish identity to include values that are clearly of a religious nature,” attorney Sausan Zahar said.

“Imposing Jewish religious values on Arab hospital visitors on the grounds that the Passover chametz ban has become a national symbol of the country, is equivalent to adopting the notion of superiority that is at the basis of the nation-state law. Also, the rabbinate is brazenly denying patients’ legal rights, including the right to choose the place of treatment and the right to receive visitors. This just exemplifies the oppression facilitated by this ban from the outset.”