Is That a Sandwich in Your Bag?

The High Court of Justice is right - setting up separate areas in hospitals for those wanting to eat food that isn't kosher for Passover is a disproportionate, humiliating and unfeasible solution

Hadassah University Hospital, Ein Karem, in Jerusalem, February 12, 2019.
Emil Salman

The High Court of Justice did well this week when it criticized the state’s proposal to set up areas outside hospital buildings where hametz – food that isn’t kosher for Passover – could be eaten during the holiday.

Justices Neal Hendel, Uzi Vogelman and Ofer Grosskopf issued an interim order demanding that the state (albeit after this coming Passover), explain why any food, including hametz, can’t be brought into hospitals during the holiday, and that it instruct the hospitals to find a different, proportionate way to maintain kashrut during the holiday – for example, by using disposable plates and cutlery. The state was also asked to explain why hospital security guards need to be involved in enforcing kashrut regulations.

“Hametz areas,” essentially pens for secular and non-Jewish people, which the state wants to set up at the hospitals during Passover to preserve their kashrut, is a disproportionate, humiliating and in any case unfeasible solution. How can a hospital insist that bedridden patients who want food from home go to a hametz area outside the building? The state’s demand that the hospitals position a guard at the entrances who will be authorized to go through people’s belongings not just to check for weapons, but also to confiscate sandwiches to avoid the dreaded hametz terror, is ridiculous and exceeds the hospitals’ legal authority.

Attorney Yair Nehorai, who represents the Secular Forum, which filed the petition against the hospitals’ no-hametz policy, argued that the law does not give the hospitals the authority to prevent the entrance of non-kosher food, and that their executives have no right to prevent anyone from eating what they please. “How do you enforce this, when more than half the country doesn’t want kosher food? Guards will find an older woman, a mother bringing food to her child, and what will they do to her? File an indictment against her?”

Attorney Sausan Zahar of the Adalah – Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel argued, “It’s inconceivable that there would be a policy that prevents that Arab mother or father who wants to bring food to their relatives from bringing their natural food to a place where those same people are in their weakest possible state.” She added, “We aren’t asking to mix our food with the hospital food. We are asking to bring food by ourselves, for ourselves, in our own utensils.”

This marks a quantum leap in religious coercion of individuals by the state, which undermines the individual liberty of secular Jewish and Arab patients and employees, as well as the rights and dignity of the patients. The State of Israel is taking giant steps in a dangerous direction, from a secular state that is committed to religious freedom toward a theocracy.

Israel is not a halakhic state, and its institutions may not trample on individual rights. It would behoove the state to listen to the High Court justices and adopt the proposed solution to use disposable tableware on Passover, which is a balanced and proportionate solution.

The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.