Secular Coercion


Israel’s Supreme Court has done it again. In its ruling last week allowing chametz into hospitals on Pesach, it has shown that its connection to Judaism is, at best, tenuous. The same can be said for its connection to the people of Israel, who overwhelmingly want a Jewish state where Jews are free to practice their religion in public settings.

The misguided ruling was a follow-up to an earlier decision barring hospital security guards from checking visitors’ belongings for chametz during Pesach. The Chief Rabbinate, with the backing of the attorney general, had asked the court to reconsider the matter before a larger panel. But Supreme Court President Esther Hayut refused, disrespecting Jewish sensibilities and potentially putting at risk the health of religious Jews.

“The court is discounting the majority of the citizens of Israel,” the Rabbinate said in a statement. “Beyond the harm dealt to Israel’s status as a Jewish state, this will cause religious Jews to avoid hospitals and refuse vital food and treatment during Pesach.”

Moreover, if chametz is allowed in hospitals it will be extremely difficult, if not impossible, for mashgichim to ensure that meals served there are truly kosher for Pesach.

For decades, visitors and patients were asked to go without chametz products for seven days a year out of respect for Jewish law in a Jewish country. And not just any law. Chametz, which carries a severe punishment of kareis, and which not only cannot be eaten, but cannot even be seen or found on one’s premises. A mitzvah that Jews throughout the ages have meticulously observed, often at great personal sacrifice, is not considered a “fundamental freedom” by Hayut. Bringing a sandwich into the hospital is.

It is a scandalous ruling that reflects either ignorance or disdain for Torah law, perhaps both.

Housing Minister Rabbi Yaakov Litzman was right to term the ruling “secular coercion in the public sphere.” Someone who wants to eat chametz on Pesach in the privacy of his home, R”l, is free to do so; but he has no right to do so at the expense of G-d-fearing Jews.

The hospital is an uncomfortable setting in the best of times. A person is not in his own home, his own bed, on his own schedule. The discomfort is compounded on Shabbos and Yom Tov. But to think that a Jew must be forced to encounter chametz in his immediate environment is unconscionable.

In these circumstances, it is very possible that people will put off urgently needed medical treatment in order to avoid going to the hospital on Pesach. This would put patients’ lives at risk.

In her ruling, Hayut hinted at the solution. She said that the practice of barring chametz from hospitals cannot stand “without the legislature giving [its] opinion.”

If so, it is up to our Knesset representatives to insist on such legislation being passed as part of the coalition agreement that will presumably be signed after the upcoming elections. But their ability to make such a demand will depend on how many Knesset seats they bring to the table. It is therefore incumbent on Jews who care about chametz in hospitals on Pesach to vote for those who will stand firmly for Torah values.