For First Time in Years, Jerusalem Cracks Down on Sale of Leavened Bread During Passover

Municipality workers are enforcing the law banning the public sale of non-kosher for Passover products in public, confiscates Old City bagel vendor's wares

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Zaki Sabah selling beigele outside the Old City.
Zaki Sabah selling beigele outside the Old City. Credit: Alex Kolomoisky

Contrary to the practice of previous years, the Jerusalem municipality is enforcing the law against public displays of leavened bread during Passover at the Old City’s Jaffa Gate this year.

Municipal inspectors confiscated the wares of a bagel vendor at the site on Wednesday and prevented others from selling their goods. The bagels have become one of the symbols of the Old City.

Though the law permits the city to ban the sale of bagels during Passover, it hasn’t been enforced in most of the Old City in years. There have been times in the past when, under pressure from religious city councilmen, municipal inspectors did enforce the law specifically at Jaffa Gate. But for the past two years, it hasn’t even been enforced there.

Jaffa Gate is considered a particularly sensitive area, because tens of thousands of Jews pass through it every day of the seven-day Passover holiday on their way to the Jewish Quarter and the Western Wall. At Damascus Gate and other gates opening into Arab neighborhoods of east Jerusalem, sales of leavened bread products continued as usual on Wednesday.

The inspectors arrived at Jaffa Gate Wednesday morning and told vendors not to sell leavened products. Most of the vendors either moved elsewhere or simply shut up shop. But Zaki Sabah, a longtime bagel vendor who operates without a license, refused to either leave or close, so his wares were confiscated.

Another inspection took place several hours later, and in the end, no leavened products were sold at Jaffa Gate on Wednesday.

“I told them I wasn’t standing in the Jewish Quarter, that there are lots of Christian tourists here and other people who want to buy bread, but they didn’t listen to me,” Sabah said. “The inspector told me it’s Passover and I have to close. There was even a Jew who tried to intervene, but it didn’t help.”

Thousands of Christian tourists have been flocking the Old City this week, which is Holy Week, the week before Easter, which is this upcoming Sunday.

Bagels on sale in Jerusalem.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

The Jerusalem municipality said that according to both the law and Supreme Court rulings, leavened products may be sold in stores, but cannot be publicly displayed in the street or in shop windows, and the municipality is simply enforcing the law.

Also on Wednesday, activists seeking to increase the Jewish presence on the Temple Mount reported a sharp increase in the number of Jews visiting the site this Passover. On Tuesday, 360 Jews did so, more than double the number who visited the site on the first day of Passover last year. Police detained three of the Jewish visitors on suspicion of trying to pray at the site.

On Thursday morning, tens of thousands of Jews are expected to visit the Western Wall for the priestly blessing ceremony, and roads around the Old City will be closed to vehicles from 8 A.M. onward.

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