Knesset Speaker Dahlia Itzik, addressing a special session of the house on Monday, declared that the issue of selling bread and other religiously prohibited foods during the Passover week is for the Knesset and not the courts to decide.
The special session, which interrupted the Knesset recess, was called to debate a recent court ruling which appeared to give a green light to sales of chametz (foods forbidden on Passover). Jewish law forbids consumption of leavened bread and a range of other foods beginning on Passover, which begins this year on April 19.
The Jerusalem Court ruling on the issue of chametz does not correlate to or match the original intentions of the law, Itzik told the house. "The issue at hand belongs to the Knesset and not to the courts," she said. "It is this Knesset that must decide."
The session was called on the initiative of religious MK Shmuel Halpert (United Torah Judaism), who said that eating chametz was a sin punishable by death or excommunication.
Jerusalem Municipal Court Judge Tamar Bar Asher-Zaban ruled recently that Israeli law permitted selling hametz in groceries, restaurants and pizzerias during the Passover holiday. The judge said the businesses included in her ruling were not considered "public" places by law, and therefore the selling of hametz in those places does not fall under the "matzot" law which prohibits the public selling of hametz.
Immediately after the ruling was made public, the religious and haredi factions put forward a bill intended to neutralize the ruling. The Knesset met Sunday to discuss the proposal, but the attempt to change the ruling failed. Ultra-Orthodox cabinet minister Yitzhak Cohen presented his bill to the cabinet for sponsorship, but the cabinet declained to discuss his proposal for administrative reasons. According to Interior Minister Meir Shitrit of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's Kadima party, "You cannot impose a lifestyle by means of legislation."
Trade Minister Eli Yishai, head of the ultra-Orthodox Sephardi Shas party, stressed that the religious and haredi parties will insist the law be changed. During the meeting Yishai added that the bill his party would prepare would be decisive and will not leave room for further interpretation.
Yishai said the people of Israel find the selling of chametz on Pesach "repellent" and that the public will surely ignore the "bizarre" court decision. "Shas, the messenger of Israel, means to change the new Chametz laws. We will struggle to pass our bill quickly, even if it means going against the government," he said.
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