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UTJ submits bill to ban hametz from hospitals during Passover

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's religions and Diaspora affairs correspondent.

Secular Jews object to ultra-Orthodox Jews trying to stop stores, cafes and restaurants from continuing to sell bread and other leavened foods during the Passover festival in downtown Jerusalem, April 22, 2008. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Secular Jews object to ultra-Orthodox Jews trying to stop stores, cafes and restaurants from continuing to sell bread and other leavened foods during the Passover festival in downtown Jerusalem, April 22, 2008. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Members of the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism party submit a bill to ban leavened goods, or hametz, from hospitals during the Passover holiday.

For years, hospitals and other public institutions banned the entrance of hametz during the week-long holiday — when Jews traditionally refrain from eating leavened goods — with some even instructing guards to search for forbidden foods in people’s bags at the doors.

In 2020, the High Court declared such bans in hospitals to be illegal, and last year the court tentatively issued a similar ruling regarding army bases.

Former health minister Nitzan Horowitz’s apparent glee over the fact that these hametz bans were overturned gave long-struggling coalition whip Idit Silman the reason she needed to jump ship and leave the government — decrying that more liberal parties were destroying the state’s “Jewish character.”

This denied the coalition a majority and led to its downfall. (In what Silman maintains is a happy coincidence, in the elections following her bringing down the previous government she was given a plum spot on the Likud party list and was even made a minister.)

Today, UTJ MKs Moshe Gafni, Yaakov Asher, and Yitzhak Pindrus put forward a bill to not only legalize — but require such hametz bans in hospitals.

“During the period of Passover, no hametz or other food — other than that which is in line with the directives set by the Chief Rabbinate of Israel — will be allowed in or held in a medical facility,” the bill reads.

Similar bills have been put forward by religious lawmakers in every Knesset since the 2020 High Court ruling but so far to no avail.

Opposition MK and former religious services minister Matan Kahana ridicules the bill, saying it will almost surely have the opposite effect.

“Mister prime minister, if you want to ensure that people will bring hametz into hospitals, please accept the request of Gafni,” Kahana writes in a tweet.

The progressive Orthodox Ne’emanei Torah V’Avoda similarly knocks the proposal, saying it will “sow hatred” and drive people away from religion.

“In terms of Jewish law, there are a number of solutions that do not require peeking around in people’s personal bags, as was done in different hospitals in the past. Laws like this that impose religion and get into people’s personal lives never bring people closer to Judaism and they are ultimately a boomerang that weakens the Judaism of the state,” the group says.

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