Israel Wants ‘Kashrut Security Guards’ at Hospitals

The state's plan to post such guards at hospital entrances was revealed during a hearing on petitions against regulations that ban hametz at hospitals during Passover

Ashkelon's Barzilai medical center, 2010
Eliyahu Hershkovitz

The state told the High Court of Justice on Sunday it had plans to post “kashrut security guards” at hospital entrances to ensure that no hametz (leavened food) is brought into the facilities during the Passover holiday.

The plan was revealed during a hearing on petitions against regulations that ban hametz at hospitals during Passover. When the justices said that it wasn’t possible to turn hospital security guards into enforcers of kashrut policy, the state’s attorney replied: “There is a desire and an intent to create kashrut security guards.”

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Rambam Medical Center in Haifa, 2014
Hagai Frid

The petitions were filed before Passover by the Secular Forum and Adalah, the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel. Justices Neal Hendel, Uzi Vogelman and Ofer Groskopf were critical of the lack of efforts made by the Health Ministry and the Chief Rabbinate to find a solution to the imposition of hospital kashrut on the entire public, including those who aren’t Jewish. They asked if the rabbinate’s position was based on Jewish law or was merely a policy position, and if there could be no flexibility shown on kashrut issues in public places.

“Here it’s either all or nothing,” said Vogelman. “There isn’t any balance or any modicum of balance. We are a system of balances. A father who wants to bring his child a wafer, you can’t force a population to bring him a specific kind of food. After all, all of us visit hospitals.”

Grosskopf told the state’s lawyers, “The rule you have set is very extreme, certainly for those who do not observe kashrut and even for those who keep kashrut.”

The initial position of the Health Ministry was that the instructions regarding the introduction of hametz is issued to each hospital separately, insofar as it wishes to hold a kashrut certificate and undertakes to comply with the rules of the Rabbinate.

In the context of Passover, there is a sweeping ban on bringing any food at all into the hospital during the holiday; only food supplied by the hospital may be eaten at the facility.

After the petition was filed, security company managers and hospital security departments complained it was not their job to enforce the hametz ban at hospitals.

Sunday’s hearing was an initial session. Hospital management are expected to respond at the next hearing.

The Chief Rabbinate’s hospital regulations about kashrut on Passover, say that “the guards doing security checks must be instructed that from the morning the hospital is made kosher [for Passover] through the end of the holiday ... no hametz products can be brought into the hospital, with no exceptions.” The regulations also call for hanging signs at entrances to the premises and to wards and at elevators, asking visitors not to bring in any food during Passover.

Before last Passover, after the Secular Forum filed its petition, four hospitals – Ichilov, Rambam, Wolfson and Barzilai – announced that they would not order hospital security guards to search for hametz in visitors’ or patients’ bags.

Barzilai director Dr. Chezi Levy, who also chairs the government hospital directors’ forum, told Haaretz at the time that, “we will work vigorously to honor the holiday, to make the hospital kosher for Passover and not to violate the holiday in public. We will ask visitors and patients to cooperate. But I’ve forbidden searching for hametz in patients’ cupboards or in the bags or cars of visitors. That does no honor to the people, the staff or the holiday.”

Still, in some hospitals there was concern that the petition would lead to an enforcement crackdown, contrary to the petitioners’ intentions, particularly if the petition were to be dismissed.