update deskJewish & Israeli Holidays

New law allows Israeli hospitals to ban chametz during Passover

The legislation reverses a Supreme Court ruling from last year.

Baking shmurah matzah in Jerusalem for the upcoming Jewish holiday of Passover, April 11, 2022. Photo by Arie Leib Abrams/Flash90.
Baking shmurah matzah in Jerusalem for the upcoming Jewish holiday of Passover, April 11, 2022. Photo by Arie Leib Abrams/Flash90.

The Knesset plenum on Tuesday passed into law a bill to allow hospitals to ban chametz, or leavened foods, during the weeklong Passover holiday that begins on the evening of April 5.

Forty-eight Knesset members voted in favor and 43 voted against the proposal that is intended to reverse a Supreme Court ruling from April 2020 according to which hospitals could not enforce a similar law.

The haredi United Torah Judaism Party sponsored the bill that grants hospital administrators the flexibility to determine “the special arrangements” needed to ensure that patients can keep kosher for Passover.

According to the law, chametz instructions as determined by hospital managers will be published on the hospital website and signs will be posted in the facility. Employees will also be informed of the religious instructions.

A related law was in place for more than three decades until it was struck down by the Supreme Court, sitting as the High Court of Justice, in 2022 when it ruled on a petition by a secular group that hospitals could not require security guards to search visitor’s bags for chametz during the holiday.

“The restrictions prevent patients from eating what they choose in their personal space and violates their right to dignity, autonomy and religious freedom that they are supposed to enjoy in a democratic country,” the justices wrote in their opinion.

Professor Aviad Hacohen, who represented Israel’s Chief Rabbinate in the case, slammed the High Court ruling. Hacohen said the ruling would “turn the last place where Jews, Arabs, ultra-Orthodox and secular Israelis enjoy good relations—both as patients as staff—into a place of controversy. This will have widespread effects on keeping kosher in public.”

Following last April’s ruling, then-Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz of Meretz set off a political firestorm when he wrote a letter to hospitals ordering them to allow chametz on Passover. That led to the resignation of MK Idit Silman, who was then in the Yamina Party and was the coalition whip. Her resignation caused the coalition to lose its majority in the Knesset and triggered an early election. Silman now serves as environment minister as a member of the Likud Party.

Halachah, Jewish religious law, forbids the eating or ownership of leavened products during the holiday, in keeping with the story of the Exodus from Egypt.

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