Coalition at odds over allowing visitors to bring hametz into hospitals on Passover

Whip Idit Silman says health minister crossed ‘red line’ when he told medical centers to respect a High Court ruling against ban on leavened products

Yamina MK Idit Silman and Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz during a hearing of the Knesset's Labor, Welfare, and Health Committee in Jerusalem, on February 28, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Yamina MK Idit Silman and Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz during a hearing of the Knesset's Labor, Welfare, and Health Committee in Jerusalem, on February 28, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

A top member of the coalition on Sunday lambasted Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz for ordering hospitals to allow patients and visitors to bring hametz, or non-kosher-for-Passover food, onto their premises during the upcoming Passover holiday — though the minister was only instructing institutions to abide by a top court ruling on the matter.

“When a minister in the government says that hametz should be allowed [in hospitals], he is disrespecting 70 percent of the public,” coalition whip Idit Silman, of Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s Yamina party, said during a debate of the Knesset’s Labor, Welfare, and Health Committee.

“People during the Holocaust fasted on Passover rather than eat hametz and a minister in the government of the State of Israel unfortunately intends to introduce hametz… This is contempt for members of the coalition,” she said.

Jewish law strictly prohibits the consumption of leavened food for the seven days of the Passover holiday (April 15-22), and cooking and serving utensils used with such food must not be used during Passover.

Hospitals do not serve hametz food on Passover. But recent years saw authorities, including the Chief Rabbinate, increasingly demand that hospitals also prevent visitors from bringing any such products with them. Scenes of security guards searching people’s bags for hametz on Passover and confiscating any potentially offensive food items caused anger, and court petitions.

In 2020, the High Court of Justice ruled that hospitals cannot ban patients, visitors and others from entering with food products that are not kosher for Passover during the holiday.  In its ruling, the court said that the orders to search those entering hospitals were taken without authority.

The justices also said that the ban harms the fundamental rights for the autonomy of the individual and freedom of religion, as well as patients’ dignity and right to self-determination.

In an official letter last week, Horowitz demanded that the directors of the country’s medical centers abide by the High Court ruling.

“It is our duty to allow each patient to behave in his own way, without coercion,” he wrote.

Sources around Horowitz told Hebrew media on Sunday that the minister was merely requesting that hospitals respect the verdict.

They added that hospitals are obliged to comply with the ruling, and to respect the entire public with strict adherence to the principles of freedom of religion, freedom of religion, equality and human dignity, without harm and without coercion.

Silman demanded that Horowitz release guidelines on the matter, warning that his actions are “crossing the red line.”

Silman has recently been very vocal regarding issues of religion and state in Israel. Last week she came out firmly against the so-called Western Wall compromise, a deal that would grant additional freedoms to non-Orthodox streams of Judaism at the Jerusalem holy site.

“There’s a status quo with the Western Wall that I don’t think is going to change. All of the attention around this is just demagoguery. This is a house of prayer. There’s a minority — a Reform minority — that is making a lot of noise as though it’s the majority. We need to say the truth: That’s not the case,” Silman said in an interview with the Kan public broadcaster. “This government and certainly we — or at least I — need to preserve the Orthodox character of the Western Wall.”

L-R: Defense Minister Benny Gantz, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, MK Idit Silman and Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar attend a plenary session at the Knesset in Jerusalem, June 28, 2021 (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

The incident is also indicative of growing tensions within the coalition.

Last week, Bennett and Defense Minister Gantz canceled both their planned trips to India. The two concurrent trips caused tensions between Bennett and Gantz when they were announced a week earlier, with some coalition officials believing the latter was trying to upstage the premier.

Also last week, during a cabinet meeting where ministers voted to approve the establishment of five new communities in the Negev, a heated exchange erupted between Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar and Environmental Protection Minister Tamar Zandberg — who both voted against the motion.

“You have a fierce hatred for Jewish settlement. It’s sick,” Sa’ar was quoted as saying by the Walla news outlet. “I will not be graded on Zionism by you, with all due respect,” Zandberg reportedly said.

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