Bill to let hospitals ban leavened bread over Passover cleared for final readings

Legislation’s authors note proposal doesn’t include enforcement measures, as opposition lawmakers denounce so-called hametz law as an assault on civil liberties

Cnaan Lidor is The Times of Israel's Jewish World reporter

View of the HaEmek Medical Center in Afula, Israel on February 12, 2018. (Flash90/ File)
View of the HaEmek Medical Center in Afula, Israel on February 12, 2018. (Flash90/ File)

A Knesset committee has advanced a controversial bill that would allow hospital directors to ban leavened bread from their institutions during Passover.

The Knesset Health Committee on Monday cleared the bill, submitted in December by seven lawmakers from the coalition’s ultra-Orthodox Shas and United Torah Judaism parties, for its second and third plenum readings.

If passed into law, the measure would allow administrators of hospitals, including public ones, to inform those entering them of a ban on leavened bread, which Jewish religious laws prohibit the consumption or possession of during the week-long holiday.

The bill’s authors have noted that it does not empower hospital staff to enforce the ban or prevent access to people with leavened bread, called “hametz” in Hebrew.

In 2021, the High Court of Justice ruled that hospitals may not legally prohibit people from bringing in leavened goods during Passover, as that might violate the civil rights of those not interested in observing the holiday’s rules. The bill advanced Monday is widely seen as a response to that ruling.

The 12-member committee, eight seats of which are held by the coalition, dismissed multiple objections by opposition members to the bill, referring them to the plenum votes. A date for these votes has yet to be determined.

Vladimir Beliak, a lawmaker in opposition leader Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid party, said in a statement about the bill: “This law is another provocation, an attempt at religious coercion that readies the ground for additional laws that will limit individual freedoms.”

Committee Chair Uriel Buso of Shas, who is one of the bill’s coauthors, said the law “entails no coercion, no invasion of privacy. No bag searches. It merely gives hospital directors the agency to decide, inform, and hang up signs.”

The bill is being advanced during the throes of a polarizing debate in Israel over the judicial overhaul being pushed by the right-religious government led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, which seeks to limit the judiciary’s authority. Many of the plan’s critics, including hundreds of thousands at protest rallies in Tel Aviv and elsewhere across the country in recent weeks, have cited fears of religious coercion in the absence of a powerful judiciary.

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