The Freedom to Eat Chametz

Health institutions should enable those who want to preserve kashrut to do so, but it’s unacceptable to make everyone around them pay the price

File photo: Ultra-Orthodox Jews in Israel preparing matzoh shmura, a special type of the traditional Passover staple, April 2016.
Gil Cohen-Magen

Tonight Israel will celebrate the holiday of freedom and just like every year, the freedom of many hospitalized patients will be infringed on during the intermediate days of Pesach.

The petition submitted to the High Court of Justice against the ban on bringing chametz into hospitals during Passover hasn’t been decided yet. So non-Jewish patients, secular patients, and all the patients who aren’t observant and their families will be forced to sneak food surreptitiously into their mouths like outlaws, or leave food containing chametz at hospitals’ entrance.

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Last month the High Court of Justice asked the state to explain why it forbade bringing food, including chametz, into hospitals during Passover, and why the hospital security guards, who are in charge of the security of the people there, should be involved in enforcing kashrut laws.

During the petition’s hearing, the High Court justices also criticized the state’s “compromise” suggestion, which is nothing less than a humiliating, degrading solution: setting up “chametz compounds,” to which all those who want to eat chametz during the holiday would be banished.

The state was also asked to explain why using disposable plates and cutlery in hospitals during the holiday wasn’t allowed, as this was a solution that would satisfy everyone.

The state’s answer is due to be heard only in June. Meanwhile the Health Ministry issued a notice to all hospital directors, stating that “hospitals will act to ensure kashrut over Pesach. … They must adhere to the Chief Rabbinate’s kashrut regulations.”

Israeli law does not compel anyone to observe the commandments. Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi David Lau said on Thursday in an interview with Ynet that halakha (Jewish religious law) does not forbid seeing chametz in public during Pesach. That means that the obstinate struggle the  Chief Rabbinate is conducting together with the state to purge all hospital areas of chametz is nothing but a rigorous interpretation of halakha, resulting in coercion.

Hospitals are especially sensitive places, where people stay when in distress. Health institutions should enable those who want to preserve kashrut to do so, but it’s unacceptable to make everyone around them pay the price.

“Why not show respect?” asked Rabbi Lau yesterday. The same question should be directed back at those who, instead of looking away and going about their business, choose to impose their way of life on those around them.

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