High Court: Hospitals Not Permitted to Ban Chametz on Pesach

A challah bakery in Tzfas. (David Cohen/Flash90, File)

In a ruling that could bring dramatic ramifications for the religious community, the High Court accepted petitions by the Secular Forum and the Adalah organization, saying the ban imposed by hospitals on bringing in chametz on their premises on Pesach is illegal. The court also ruled that security guards are not allowed to search among visitors’ or patients’ belongings to ensure that no chametz is present.

After petitions to the High Court several years ago, the State said that preventing visitors from bringing chametz into hospitals during Pesach is a “proper and worthy procedure.”

The State suggested that visitors would be able to deposit the chametz at the entrance to hospitals and receive it back upon leaving.

In a letter last year to the Health Ministry, Sephardi Chief Rabbi Harav Yitzchak Yosef wrote: “Permitting the presence of chametz of any kind could make public hospitals in the State of Israel off-limits to Jews who observe tradition, because if they are forced to choose between possibly violating an obligation of the Torah and going to the hospital during Pesach, those who observe tradition, which is most of the Israeli public, might refrain from going to the hospital. This poses a real risk to health and public well-being.”

Israel’s Chief Rabbinate claimed that allowing chametz into hospitals during Pesach would seriously violate the fundamental legal principles of the right to life, equality and freedom of religion.

The Rabbinate said that the only solution to the dispute is to preserve the status quo, arguing that the ban on chametz in hospitals is in keeping with Israel’s values as a Jewish and democratic state, and that it is legitimate to require hospital staff to enforce the ban, just as they are required to enforce many other rules.

The only High Court judge in favor of banning chametz was religious judge Neal Hendel.

MK Rabbi Moshe Gafni said in response to the decision: “I propose that there be primaries for the High Court judges, and that in matters pertaining to Knesset legislation the issue will need to pass the legislative process as in the Knesset.

“The judges are big chatzufim. What we legislators do in countless committee hearings and four plenary hearings, they dismiss a decision with reasoning that makes no sense, and make decisions based on their worldview as far as they can imagine. If we would like to live a democratic and Jewish lifestyle, we have to end this process.”

MK Rabbi Yakov Asher (UTJ) said that the High Court’s ruling “is a slippery slope, a gradual process of the destruction of Jewish values which are being trampled underfoot in such a crass manner.

“Every elected official is obligated to protest this decision, and to use whatever means available in the law to protect the Jewish character of the State.”

Transportation Minister Betzalel Smotrich (Yamina) condemned the High Court for its unprecedented ruling. “The High Court continues to destroy the fundamental values of the Jewish State, and to impose its own crazy progressive values in an undemocratic manner and without the authority to do so,” he said.

“It’s obvious that the High Court is basically running the country, and is imposing its views in more and more areas in a way that makes the democratic process and the citizens themselves superfluous. The only question is, when will people wake up and realize that this has gone too far.”

Attorney Prof. Aviad Hacohen, who represented the Chief Rabbinate, condemned the Court’s decision and warned of its possible ramifications. “To my distress, the Court has made this decision that will lead to a situation in which the last place in Israel in which everyone co-existed happily – patients, staff and visitors, Jewish and Arabs, chareidim, secular and religious – has become a focus of dispute,” he said.

“This ruling will have far-reaching consequences concerning the observance of the kashrus laws in the public sphere in the State of Israel,” he predicted.

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