Israel Proposes Special Chametz Sections in Hospitals During Passover

After other options dismissed by either the state or the High Court, secular activists call the proposal a first step by Orthodox Jewish political forces toward turning Israel into a religious state

File photo: Ultra-Orthodox Jews in Israel preparing matzoh shmura, a special type of the traditional Passover staple, April 2016.
Gil Cohen-Magen

The state has proposed setting up specific areas in hospitals where chametz – leavened products that don't comply with the Passover restrictions  can be brought for consumption during Passover.

"In this way, hospital patients and visitors will be allowed to bring in and eat food that isn’t kosher for Passover in the designated place, without undermining the utensils and the food provided in the hospital to all the patients,” the state wrote in response to a petition filed in March with the High Court of Justice against the ban on chametz in hospitals.

The response also noted that measures would be needed to prevent chametz from being brought into the rest of the hospital. “Implementing the ban on bringing in chametz products to the other areas of the hospital and not bringing hospital utensils into the area designated for chametz is a necessary condition for the continued certification of the hospitals as kosher, as per the demands of the Chief Rabbinate, which is responsible for issuing kashrut certificates.”

According to the response, the state had examined the option of having hospitals use disposable utensils on Passover, so that there would be no concern about people using the regular utensils for chametz, violating their kashrut. The state dismissed this option, however, on grounds that it would be difficult to maintain complete separation between the hospital’s serving pieces, which are kosher for Passover, and the disposable utensils. In addition, the extensive use of disposable dishes is costly and detrimental to the environment.

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The Secular Forum, which submitted the petition through attorney Yair Nehorai, along with Adalah – the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel and other petitioners, said in response, “The state’s response is a black day for all to whom the State of Israel is important. The state is rejecting reasonable arrangements that have been proposed to it by the court and is choosing an arrangement that clarifies the balance of power in the state of [Deputy Health Minister Yaakov] Litzman and [Justice Minister Ayelet] Shaked: The public space is religious, while the secular population will be assigned a small ‘enclosure’ on the margins. The state is offering to allocate to those who want homemade food – kosher or not – a closed and isolated area on the edge of the hospital. The rest of the hospital will strictly observe unreasonable kashrut rules and the security guards will continue to supervise this.”

The Secular Forum added, “The state was even brazen enough to claim that it is important that patients who have difficulty moving due to their medical condition receive kosher food in their beds, but that patients interested in homemade food – kosher or not – will have to move themselves to the edge of the hospital. As far as Agudat Yisrael and Habayit Hayehudi are concerned, hospitals are merely the first step toward the halakhic state they are planning here. This is the state they envision: A religious state in which the secular will be allocated a small area on the margins where they can avoid halakhic laws. This madness must be stopped.”

In July the state had submitted a different proposal, under which security guards at the hospitals could inform visitors seeking to bring food into the hospitals on Passover that they were violating kashrut regulations, but not prevent them from bringing it in. This was presented as a compromise proposal aimed at preventing legislative attempts by the Chief Rabbinate and Health Ministry to create a kashrut enforcement system in the hospitals.

The justices hearing the petition, led by Justice Neal Hendel, criticized that proposal. “The concept is that security guards have no authority, yet they must still tell such a person he cannot bring in food,” said Justice Uzi Vogelman. “A typical person, told by a security guard not to bring food into the hospital, will not bring the food into the hospital.”

The state’s response, submitted by attorney Neta Oren, head of the state prosecution’s High Court of Justice department, addressed the use of security guards as requested by the court. The state’s representatives clarified that security guards can explain the hospital’s policy to visitors if they find chametz during the security check on Passover and tell them that they can deposit the food for safekeeping and get it back when they leave. This is even though the state explicitly noted that the security guards do not have the authority to take action against bringing chametz into the hospitals.

“It’s true that, as the honorable court noted during the hearing, it’s reasonable to assume that the average visitor will respect the guards’ instructions,” the state said. “But this is no different than the way the hospital security guards issue instructions regarding hours of operation, visiting hours, bringing in pets and other procedures connected to the hospitals’ ongoing operations.”