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Israeli hospitals banning bread on Passover? It’s more nuanced than you think

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“Knesset Bans Bread in Hospitals Over Passover, Enshrining Jewish Religious Edict Into Law” was how the Israeli newspaper Haaretz headlined the story.

But the so-called “Chametz Law” isn’t quite the bugaboo it’s being made out to be.

Since Israel’s founding until recently, hospitals were permitted to post signs telling visitors that leavened grain products, the chametz that Jewish law directs Jews to banish from their possession on Passover, was not welcome on the premises over the week-long holiday.

Several years ago, Israel’s High Court ruled that such bans violated citizens’ fundamental right to freedom. Thus, even signage warning people to not bring chametz into hospitals was illegal.

The new law, the effort of finance committee chairman MK Moshe Gafni of the Haredi United Torah Judaism party, undermines that ruling. It passed 48 to 43.

Israel’s attorney general Gali Baharav-Miara contends that the bill “raises considerable constitutional difficulties,” though Israel, famously, lacks a constitution.

Opposition leader Yair Lapid, who heads the secular Yesh Atid party, was upset. “16-year-old kids,” he opined (or perhaps was suggesting), “will now think it’s funny to throw bread rolls in hospitals.”

Reform rabbi Gilad Kariv, a Labor MK, called the law a violation of “freedom of religion and conscience.”

Lost amid the outrage is the salient fact that no Israeli hospital is being forced to go chametz-free during Passover. The hospitals at issue are those that traditionally treat a large number of religiously observant patients. They are simply being permitted, if they choose, to accommodate those patients’ desires to not inadvertently come into contact with leavened products.

Were a hospital concerned that some of its patients were allergic to peanuts, would a sign asking visitors to not bring the legumes into the facility be seen as objectionable?

Encountering it may not cause religious Jews to break into hives or have trouble breathing, but it is widely understood that anxiety and tension are detrimental to healing.

The fear seems to be that Israel, the Jewish state, might become too … Jewy. And so, the High Court ruled as it did to forbid anti-chametz signage in hospitals. Now, the Knesset has turned the clock back to the way it was for decades.

It’s a crazy time in Israel. But just over a week ago, a large group of mostly secular Israelis protesting the government’s judicial overhaul descended on the Haredi neighborhood of Bnei Brak, given the Haredi leadership’s broad endorsement of recent reforms.

Many protesters wore helmets in anticipation of being hit by barrages of rocks or eggs. Thankfully, it did not come to pass.

What did happen, though, was that local residents set up food and drink stands. They offered the protesters cooked food, cookies and bottles of water, which many of the visitors gratefully accepted.

In one widely-circulated clip, some demonstrators seemed moved when the song “Sholem Aleichem,” traditionally sung by Jewish families before the Friday night Shabbat meal, was played on loudspeakers. One older man was filmed taking off his helmet to wipe tears from his eyes as he mouthed along to the words.

He told the filming bystander, “My father had love for every Jew and wanted everyone to be united. My father would roll over in his grave if he could see the hatred and conflicts among us.”

Despite the division, disinformation, protests and counterprotests, it seems there’s hope for Israel after all.

To contact the author, email opinion@forward.com

The post Israeli hospitals banning bread on Passover? It’s more nuanced than you think appeared first on The Forward.

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