MK Tamar Zandberg (Meretz) announced during Passover that she intends to submit a bill to replace the so-called “chametz law,” which prohibits the public display of foods and beverages whose consumption is forbidden during the week-long holiday. Zandberg said the law died years ago in practice, but recently a few people have attempted to revive it “as part of a religious radicalization effort that a minority in Israeli society is trying to dictate.”
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Zandberg’s proposal is apt and timely. Israel is being swept by a wave of religious coercion and efforts by groups within the ultra-Orthodox community to force the law-abiding majority to accept the dictates of a minority – including over the issue of military service. The subject of chametz (leavened food) during Passover is an expression of this imbalance: a properly run country would not allow this state of affairs to continue.
Just as a state cannot force its citizens who believe in the laws of kashrut to eat chametz on Passover, or force vegetarians to eat meat, it must not interfere with the plates and stomachs of citizens who are not religiously observant.
The absurd part of this annual ritual is the trick of “selling your chametz to a non-Jew” – a deluxe edition of the self-deception known as “Shabbas goy.” This includes sending Druze inspectors to businesses and places of entertainment on the Sabbath, in order to make sure no Jews are desecrating the weekly day of rest. Like the text overlay “Recorded on a weekday” accompanying television programs that are broadcast on Shabbat, the sale of chametz for a period of one week – after which it is bought back – is a make-believe workaround for a religious law, or tradition, carried out with a conspiratorial wink.
Much less amusing are the enforcement measures documented over the past week: chametz inspectors examining the bags of visitors to public institutions, such as hospitals. These security guards, who were hired to look for hidden weapons that could be used in a terror attack or an assault on hospital employees, were asked to search for bread and other baked goods, and to physically prevent them from being smuggled in – as if a fluffy pita could tempt a Hasidic Jew into straying from the path of matzot and mitzvot. It betrays a sad ignorance, masquerading as religious fervor, that poses a threat to the principle of “live and let live.”
The phenomenon of the “chametz chase” reflects Israel’s sliding down the steep slope of a religious state that interferes in the lives of its citizens to an unbearable degree.