Rabbi: Non-Jews can bring bread into hospitals on Passover

Eliyahu Abergel, head of Jerusalem rabbinical court, blasts ‘humiliating’ checks for ‘hametz’ at hospital entrances

Sue Surkes is The Times of Israel's environment reporter

Rabbi Eliyahu Abergel, head of Jerusalem's rabbinical court. (Dudu Greenspan/FLASH90)
Rabbi Eliyahu Abergel, head of Jerusalem's rabbinical court. (Dudu Greenspan/FLASH90)

A prominent rabbi has ruled that it is “not in line with Jewish thinking” to prevent non-Jews from bringing leavened food products, or hametz, into hospitals during the Passover festival, when Jews are forbidden from consuming them.

The determination by Rabbi Eliyahu Abergel, head of the Jerusalem rabbinical court, contradicts an instruction to hospitals by the Chief Rabbinate and the Health Ministry. That directive said that leavened products must be left at the hospital gates, to be collected by visitors when they leave, and that security guards should check people’s bags to ensure that the instructions are followed.

Hadashot TV news reported one case in which a Bedouin woman was prevented from taking pita bread to friends in the maternity ward of Beersheba’s Soroka Hospital in the country’s south, after a security guard found it in her bag.

“It’s wrong to not allow Bedouin or refugees and others who are not Jewish from taking hametz into hospitals,” Abergel said, according to a Hadashot report Sunday. Among others, he also included non-Jewish caregivers of Jewish elderly.

Helping an elderly Israeli cross the street in Tel Aviv in 2011 (photo credit: Kobi Gideon/Flash90)
Illustrative: A carer helping an elderly Israeli to cross the street in Tel Aviv. (Kobi Gideon/Flash90)

“The instruction is invalid in principle. They can be allowed to take hametz inside and to eat it in separate rooms or in other separate places.”

He added, “In principle, it’s permitted for a Jew to see a non-Jew holding hametz but it’s forbidden for him to hold it himself. The checks of visitors that are being carried out at hospitals are humiliating, belittling and insulting. The issue could easily be resolved without causing people discomfort.”

Late last month, five hospitals announced that they would not obey the orders to have security guards at entrance gates check visitors for leavened products.

The five were Ichilov in Tel Aviv, Rambam in Haifa, Wolfson in Holon, Barzilai in Ashkelon and Jerusalem’s Shaare Zedek, which serves a substantial Orthodox Jewish population.

Three hospitals said that they would continue to follow the rules, which have become a norm in recent years: Hadassah’s two campuses in Jerusalem, Laniado in Netanya, and nearby Hillel Yaffe, in Hadera.

The announcements followed a petition to the High Court filed by the Secular Forum NGO, together with lawmakers from the left-of-center Zionist Union and the left-wing Meretz parties, seeking a ruling against the conditioning of Passover kashrut certificates for hospitals on the institutions’ checking and confiscation of leavened products. In a democratic state, the petition argued, members of the public should be able to eat as they like and should not be coerced.

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)

The state sided with the Health Ministry, headed by an ultra-Orthodox lawmaker, Yaakov Litzman (United Torah Judaism).

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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