The Chametz Resistance: Israeli Hospitals Say They Won’t Check Visitors for Bread on Passover

A non-binding request to ban leavened products during the holiday puts pressure on hospitals to comply, lest they risk losing their kosher certification

The entrance to the emergency room at Rambam Medical Center in Haifa, 2015.
\ Hagai Frid

Four Israeli hospitals said they will not comply with a request from the Chief Rabbinate to actively block leavened food from entering their premises during the week of Passover, a demand that was endorsed by the state. The holiday begins Friday evening and entails strict dietary restrictions.

The non-binding request by the Chief Rabbinate to ban chametz – the food that does not comply with the Passover restrictions – put pressure on hospitals across the country to comply with the ban, lest they risk losing their kashrut certificates from the Rabbinate.

However, the left-leaning advocacy group Secular Forum challenged the Chief Rabbinate guidelines and Health Ministry with a petition to the High Court of Justice. The petition was joined by four Knesset members – new Meretz party chairwoman Tamar Zandberg, Meretz MKs Michal Rozin and Mossi Raz, and Labor MK Ksenia Svetlova, who chairs the Knesset’s secular caucus.

The state swiftly responded that banning leavened food from hospitals over Passover is a “reasonable restriction” meant to make the hospitals accessible to people who observe the holiday’s kashrut laws.

The Chief Rabbinate’s “hospitals” guidelines state that “security guards must ensure that chametz products are not introduced to the hospital, without exception.” In addition, signs should be placed at the entrance to the hospitals, to medical departments and elevators warning against bringing in chametz. In a note, the state added that if “irregular food” is found, the products in question should be deposited at the entrance to the hospital and collected after the visit.

The ban was not mandated by the Health Ministry, which means hospitals have no legal obligation to search for chametz and enjoy a degree of freedom of action on the matter. In secular-leaning Tel Aviv and Haifa, respectively, Ichilov Hospital and Rambam Medical Center decided not to instruct security guards to search for chametz at the entry to their premises. Likewise, Wolfson Medical Center in Holon and Barzilai Medical Center in Ashkelon decided not to comply with the policy set by the Chief Rabbinate and supported by the state.

In a statement explaining the decision not to deploy security guards to identify the chametz, Rambam said its tradition of mutual respect between people of different cultures and religions makes it superfluous to apply the rule at the hospital by force.

“Rambam Medical Center is an example of coexistence,” said the statement. “We encourage visitors not to bring chametz out of respect and consideration.” Dr. Miki Halbertal, Rambam’s deputy director, explained, “No guards will search for chametz, but we ask visitors not to bring it.”

Wolfson Medical Center, which opposes the guidelines more strongly, said in a statement that the “role of security guards is to ensure safety, not to search for non-kosher food.”

Two hospitals in Jerusalem, as well as hospitals in the northern towns of Netanya and Hadera, decided they would comply with the strict rules set by the Chief Rabbinate, unless the High Court overturns it. The court has not taken a position on the matter.

Dr. Ram Vromen, head of the Secular Forum, which filed the court petition, said the state is failing to strike a balance between secular and religious sensitivities. “There were plenty of ways to accommodate both sides, but the state decided to serve the interests of one side only.”