This Passover was surprisingly normal. The Aroma and Arcaffe branches in Tel Aviv still made Greek sandwiches without using matza. The Lehem Erez on Ibn Gvirol Street served bread with their omelets, and apparently none of the customers' feelings were hurt. At Rivaleh on Emek Refaim Street in Jerusalem they served brioche (not made with matza meal), but only at the tables inside, not outside, since after all, Jerusalem is hardly Ibn Gvirol. At our restaurants, at least, a wonderful atmosphere of live and let live prevailed.
But it seems the good news about leavened freedom may have been premature. Roi Lachmanovich, media adviser to Interior Minister Eli Yishai, told Haaretz last week that before Pesach next year Shas would make sure to pass a law prohibiting the display of chametz, leavened foods, in all businesses. "Unfortunately this year we began working too late. But next year, without a doubt, the situation will change," Lachmanovich said.
The Chametz Law, which prohibits the public display of leaven, was passed in 1986. But it was only two years ago that the Jerusalem municipality, headed by then mayor Uri Lupolianski, prosecuted alleged scofflaws for the first time.
Jerusalem Municipal Court Judge Tamar Bar Asher-Zaban acquitted the four businesses charged in the case, interpreting the prohibition against displaying chametz in the narrowest possible manner and virtually emptying the law of content.
Lachmanovich seeks to amend the law to remove from it the word 'public,' so that the display of chametz will be completely prohibited.
"We will correct this distortion of justice," he said. The coalition agreement does not guarantee Shas'support for the bill, but according to Lachmanovich, "if someone decides to make a big to-do and embarrass us, we will take action to embarrass them."
It is doubtful any law in Israel is identified with religious coercion as strongly as the Chametz Law. It is hard to understand where Shas gets the chutzpah to send inspectors directly to the plates of nonobservant citizens.
On the surface, eating leaven during Pesach does not seem to be an issue of the utmost importance. But in fact, the struggle over chametz is the struggle for the right to have a normal country, to not live in a ludicrous society, to buy and sell bread openly and not 'under the table'. This is a struggle over our right to respect our culture and tradition without allowing them to rule our lives.
It is also difficult to think of a more surefire way to sully the Passover holiday, and Judaism itself, than to revise the Chametz Law. It's unclear why Judaism has had the misfortune of having those who are viewed as its representatives do everything to besmirch it. Yishai's predecessor, Aryeh Deri, used to say that we are lucky that there is no law requiring circumcision, since if there were far fewer parents would have their infant sons circumcised.
Sometimes we can learn from Deri. The coalition agreements state that 'the status quo will be maintained on matters of religion and state,' but the coalition's secular majority must put the brakes on Shas' religious coercion while this initiative is still in its infancy. Secular voters have rights, and their lifestyle and feelings must also be respected.
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