Haredi MKs fume as High Court says bread allowed in hospitals on Passover

Ultra-Orthodox lawmakers threaten to try and pass law overriding top court before March election

Medical personnel sit down for a Passover seder at Soroka Hospital in Beersheba on April 8, 2020. (Health Ministry)
Medical personnel sit down for a Passover seder at Soroka Hospital in Beersheba on April 8, 2020. (Health Ministry)

The High Court of Justice on Sunday said it would not hold another discussion on the decision to allow visitors to bring bread and other leavened food into hospitals during the Passover holiday, drawing outrage from religious bodies and politicians and praise from liberal activists.

Ultra-Orthodox politicians said they would attempt to pass a law overriding the court ruling ahead of the March elections.

The country’s top court previously rejected the Chief Rabbinate’s petition demanding that hospitals refuse to let anyone bring hametz onto their premises to respect observant people’s faith. On Sunday, it rejected another request for another hearing.

Religious Jews are forbidden from consuming or owning leavened products during the seven-day festival. Secular groups say a ban on bringing such food into hospitals infringes on their personal rights.

Shaare Zedek hospital team members wearing protective clothes move patients to the new coronavirus ward in Jerusalem on January 07, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

A United Torah Judaism MK was working to collect signatures from enough lawmakers to ask Knesset Speaker Yariv Levin to hold a plenum session on the matter even though the parliament has dissolved and Israel is facing a fourth election in two years, according to Hebrew media reports.

The Haredi parties were seeking to advance a law superseding the High Court on the issue but were unlikely to draw majority support for such a move.

The March 23 vote comes days before Passover begins, meaning there won’t be an opportunity to wait until a new government is sworn in before passing such a law.

“The hametz ruling is another example of how the judges are out of touch and unwilling to listen, while forcing their decision on the traditional majority in the State of Israel in the name of liberalism,” said United Torah Judaism MK Yaakov Asher.

Shas party leader Aryeh Deri said: “It is impossible that in a Jewish state, hospitals will be obligated to let hametz into their premises on Passover.”

MK Moshe Gafni called the judges “insolent,” while religious Likud MK Shlomo Karhi tweeted that after the election, his party would “dismantle the ruling junta and deny them the option of behaving like a parliament that wasn’t elected by anyone.”

United Torah Judaism MK Moshe Gafni with Interior Minister Aryeh Deri at a Knesset Finance Committee meeting on February 27, 2018. (Flash90)

The Rabbinate said the court’s decision delivered a “critical blow to most of the public” and may cause observant Jews to avoid hospitals during Passover and endanger their health since “the Chief Rabbinate will find it difficult to ensure kosher food at hospitals.”

According to the April 2020 ruling, which came two weeks after the end of last year’s holiday, guards cannot search the belongings of visitors or make any remark or issue any instructions about bringing in food that isn’t kosher for Passover.

The justices noted that being able to bring in food to a hospital that is not kosher for Passover is part of the fundamental right to individual autonomy and the religious freedom of every citizen in a democratic state. Therefore, the court said, hospitals have no authority to violate that right.

Before last year’s ruling, though hospitals risked losing their Rabbinate-issued kashrut license for refusing to implement the ban, an increasing number of institutions had already been opting to ignore the rules. In 2019, 13 hospitals said they would disregard the annual directive from the Chief Rabbinate and the Health Ministry to actively ban food that is not kosher for Passover during the Jewish holiday.

The Passover custom of eating only unleavened products commemorates the Exodus of the Jewish People from Egypt, which, according to the Bible, took place so quickly that they did not have time for their bread to rise.

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