Israel Claims Barring Bread From Hospitals During Passover Is Reasonable

A petition by the Secular Forum aims to allow visitors to bring 'chametz' into hospitals during the Jewish holiday

ILLUSTRATION: A specialist separates in half bread baked with pulse flour next to bread baked using wheat flour.
Trevor Hagan/Bloomberg

A rule that forbids bringing leavened food into hospitals on Passover is a reasonable restriction meant to make the hospitals accessible to people who observe the holiday’s stringent kashrut laws, the state told the High Court of Justice on Sunday.

It was responding to a petition by the Secular Forum demanding that the ban be overturned. The petition was filed due to several incidents last Passover in which guards searched visitors’ belongings and confiscated any food items containing leaven.

The ban was not mandated by the Health Ministry. In fact, hospitals have no legal obligation to prevent chametz, as products with leavening are known, from entering during Passover.

But because they must serve the entire population, including those who observe Passover, all hospitals seek kashrut certificates from the Chief Rabbinate. This means they have to meet the rabbinate’s kashrut requirements. And on Passover, the rabbinate requires that food containing chametz not be allowed on the premises.

To comply with this rule, the state’s brief said, hospitals typically post signs telling people not to bring in any food at all on Passover.

But from now on, it added, security guards will also be instructed to inform visitors of this orally, and “if, in the course of a security check, food other than whole, fresh fruit and vegetables, or packaged food bearing a kosher for Passover label from an authorized body, is found in their bags, the visitors will be directed to suitable locations in the entryway where they can deposit their food and retrieve it upon leaving the hospital.”

Hospital administrators will even be entitled to ban fresh produce and foods labeled kosher for Passover if their hospital observes a stricter standard of kashrut than the norm, the brief added. This applies primarily to ultra-Orthodox hospitals such as Laniado in Netanya.

To explain why the ban is necessary, the brief noted that hospital dishes and silverware don’t stay in a limited area, but go to every patient’s room. Therefore, the hospital has no way of supervising what is done with its dishes. This means the only way to ensure that they don’t come into contact with food that isn’t kosher for Passover is to ban such food from the hospital.

Under the rabbinate’s rules, that ban is enforced from the moment the hospital has been cleaned of chametz in preparation for the seven-day holiday until the moment the special Passover dishes are put away after the holiday.

The brief argued that the ban is a proportionate measure which strikes a reasonable balance between the hospital’s need to observe kashrut and the interests of visitors who want to bring in food. The harm done to people who don’t keep kosher is minor, it said, since the ban lasts for only a few days.

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.

Mossi Raz explained that in his opinion, this practice shows that religious elements in Israel are increasingly trying to dictate their observance onto Israeli society at large.

“What democratic state tells people what to eat?” he asked, speaking to Haaretz.

“It reflects this process of imposing religious beliefs on others even if they are part of our population who is not Jewish or does not eat kosher for Passover,” he said.

Ram Fruman, who heads the Secular Forum, said the forum has received hundreds of complaints over the years from people who said that hospital guards searched their bags to find chametz.

“The situation is doubly grave due to the fact that we’re talking about patients who are forced to be hospitalized in hospitals and can’t choose not to be there,” he said shortly before submitting the petition. “This rule constitutes exploitation of the patient’s distress. Israel isn’t a state governed by Jewish law, and therefore, it’s not moral, appropriate or legal for its institutions to ride roughshod over civil rights.”

Dina Kraft contributed to this report.