High Court petitioned on hametz law after hospital seizes pregnant woman’s cookies

Organization promoting religious freedom says legislation allowing hospitals to prevent entry of leavened goods during Passover shouldn’t supersede laws protecting patients’ rights

A security guard is seen at  Hadassah Mount Scopus Hospital, as medical teams go on 24-hour strike in protest of recent attacks on hospital medical staff, May 19, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Illustrative: A security guard is seen at the Hadassah Mount Scopus Hospital, May 19, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

An organization dedicated to religious freedom petitioned the High Court Tuesday against a new law allowing hospitals to ban leavened products during Passover, days after a hospital guard confiscated cookies that were not kosher for Passover from a pregnant woman.

On Sunday, a guard at Laniado Hospital in Netanya confiscated a snack from a woman several days before the start of the holiday, as some medical centers prepared to implement the government’s “hametz law” passed by the Knesset last week.

The law bans hametz (leavened food) in hospitals during the week of Passover, during which observant Jews eschew such products, and leaves it to hospital directors to “use their own judgment in how to notify visitors and staff” either by posting their policies on their website or with signage at entrances, but it does not explicitly allow security guards to search patients’ or visitors’ bags to enforce the policy.

The petition by the Israel Hofshit-Be Free Israel organization called for the court to immediately intervene and ban potential searches at entrances to hospitals, thus preventing the possibility that patients and visitors may be denied entry to medical centers, Hebrew media reported.

The organization said the hametz law did not supersede previous laws governing patients’ rights, and “does not permit searches of the bags of people visiting the hospital or preventing entry to the hospital,” the petition charged.

“This is a violation of the right to property and freedom of movement… The state should not interfere in a person’s customs and it does not give an individual the right to impose his religious beliefs on others,” lawyers for the movement wrote, according to Channel 12 news.

Laniado Hospital, also known as the Sanz Medical Center, in Kiryat Sanz in the coastal city of Netanya, March 26, 2020. (Gili Yaari / Flash90)

Head of Be Free Israel Uri Keidar said in a statement that “we must not accept a situation in which Laniado Hospital continues to blatantly ignore the law and hurt patients.”

The petition was filed against Laniado Hospital, acting Health Minister Yoav Ben-Tzur of the Haredi Shas party, and the Health Ministry.

Ben-Tzur was made health minister to replace Shas party leader Aryeh Deri, who was fired from the position after a High Court ruling that he could not be a minister due to his recent criminal convictions and his ostensible promise last year to withdraw from political life as part of a plea bargain.

Yoav Ben-Tzur, acting health minister (right), with Aryeh Deri at the Ministry of Social Affairs, Jerusalem, on January 1, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Several large hospitals have said they will post signage on hospital premises but not search belongings to enforce the restrictions. Some said they would set up designated spaces or lockers for anyone wishing to keep hametz there. Passover begins on the evening of Wednesday, April 5, this year.

But on Sunday, according to Channel 12, an employee stationed at the entrance to Laniado Hospital, a religious hospital in Netanya, prevented a woman with a high-risk pregnancy from entering with a package of wafers that were not kosher for Passover, and she was required to leave the food outside. The hospital was founded in 1976 by Rabbi Yekutiel Yehuda Halberstam and is owned by the Sanz Hasidic sect, though it also receives state funding.

The woman’s husband, whose name was not disclosed, told Channel 12 a tent was set up at the hospital’s entrance where patients and visitors were required to hand over any food that was not kosher for Passover in exchange for a ticket to later get their food back, and gain entry to the hospital.

“They told her, ‘You have food that is non-kosher for Passover, leave it outside and we’ll get you a ticket.’ She has a high-risk pregnancy and it does not make sense that she should go into urgent treatment without food to sustain her throughout the day,” he added, explaining that his wife receives treatment at the hospital every two weeks during the pregnancy.

A man prepares matza in Kfar Chabad, April 2, 2023 (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)

The new hametz law was sponsored by the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism party, outraged after a 2020 High Court of Justice ruling blocked hospitals from searching bags to check for hametz in response to petitions decrying the searches as invasive and religiously intrusive. The court extended its ruling to army bases last year.

The fight over hametz in hospitals has become a symbol for both secular and religious Jews of their fight over religion’s place in the Jewish state, and of the legislative moves by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government — Israel’s most hardline to date.

The issue came to a crescendo last April, when the fight over hametz and its ties to religious values in the state was said to be the immediate catalyst for a member of the razor-thin coalition to defect, kicking off a three-month tumble toward the previous government’s collapse.

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