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UTJ submits bill to ban hametz from hospitals during Passover

Progressive religious voices denounce proposal, say it will have a ‘boomerang effect’ and drive people away from Judaism

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

Illustrative: Workers prepare matzah for the upcoming Jewish holiday of Passover at the 'Yehuda Matzos' plant in Jerusalem on March 16, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Illustrative: Workers prepare matzah for the upcoming Jewish holiday of Passover at the 'Yehuda Matzos' plant in Jerusalem on March 16, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

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

UTJ MKs Moshe Gafni, Yaakov Asher, and Yitzhak Pindrus put forward a bill to not only legalize but require 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 read.

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

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

When then-health minister Nitzan Horowitz instructed hospitals to abide by the High Court ruling ahead of Passover 2022, the long-struggling coalition whip Idit Silman described it as an attempt by the more liberal parties in the government to weaken the state’s “Jewish character” and jumped ship, starting the process of the coalition’s downfall.

At the time and since, some have questioned if the hametz issue was really what prompted Silman to leave the coalition or if she was enticed to break up the government by the Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu who secured her a plum spot on the party list in the subsequent election and even made her a minister. Silman has denied there was a quid pro quo.

UTJ MK Moshe Gafni speaks at a Degel HaTorah faction meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem, January 9, 2023. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

In their explanatory notes, Gafni, Asher, and Pindrus said that their bill would not be overly onerous for non-Jewish patients in hospitals as “in light of developments in food technology there are kosher-for-Passover replacements for all sorts of foods — rolls, cakes, cookies and candy bars.”

Similar bills have been put forward by religious lawmakers in every Knesset since the 2020 High Court ruling but none have been passed. The bill submitted by Gafni, Asher, and Pindrus is a “private bill,” not a government bill, meaning members of the coalition are not obligated to vote for it.

Opposition MK and former religious services minister Matan Kahana ridiculed the bill, saying it will almost surely have the opposite effect, with people intentionally bringing in leavened products as a challenge to the law.

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

Former prime minister Yair Lapid said the government was “turning Judaism into religious coercion” and was causing a rift in Israeli society with its legislative agenda.

The progressive Orthodox Ne’emanei Torah V’Avoda similarly knocked the proposal, saying it would “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 said in a statement.

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