Hametz inspection at Afula park likely an erroneous interpretation of the law

The Passover Law prohibits the public sale and display of leavened products, bread, rolls, pita bread and similar products, in public for commercial purposes.

April 8, 2015 18:40
2 minute read.
Whole wheat bread

Whole wheat bread. (photo credit: INGIMAGE)

The hullabaloo that was generated earlier this week when people were barred from entering a public park because they had hametz, leavened products, with them, probably had no legal justification, a religious freedom lobbying group says.

The Passover Law (Prohibitions of Leaven) of 1986 prohibits the public sale and display of leavened products, bread, rolls, pita bread and similar products in public for commercial purposes during the holiday. This prohibition does not, however, apply to private individuals, who are in no way restricted from consuming leavened products publicly or otherwise.

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The Hiddush religious freedom lobbying group noted that in 2008, the Jerusalem Municipal Affairs Court issued a ruling backing the right of a shop to sell hametz inside the store when the products were not on public display.

At the time, the attorney-general concluded that he would not appeal the decision and that its approach for differentiating between the public domain outdoors and the shop’s discreet sale of hametz products inside was reasonable and desirable, striking a balance between religious sensitivities and freedom of religion and choice.

Following the court case and the attorney-general’s decision, however, the director-general of the interior ministry in 2008 issued new regulations emphasizing that the law seeks to prevent the display of hametz in public, “to avoid harming the sensitivities of the public and to preserve the national and religious characteristics of Passover in the public domain.”

The regulations omitted to mention, however, that the law also states that displaying hametz in public is only forbidden for commercial purposes, not for private consumption.

Hiddush director attorney and rabbi Uri Regev noted that in response to questions on the issue, the Afula Municipal Council cited the 2008 regulations on the prohibition of displaying hametz in public, and attributed this error to the fact that these regulations emphasize the ban on public display of hametz.

The regulations do state that “the prohibition means that a business owner may not publicly display a hametz product for sale or consumption,” but does not stress the right of a private individual to consume a hametz product in public, he said.

Regev said Hiddush would be writing to the attorney-general and the interior minister to “clarify and correct” the 2008 regulations.

“The municipality’s reliance on the 2008 regulations is either a misunderstanding of the law or an act of zealousness amounting to religious coercion,” he told The Jerusalem Post.

“The rationale that is offered on these kind of issues is that we must safeguard the Jewish identity of state, and extreme care is taken in exercising this kind of religious coercion, while that which should truly be considered the measure of a Jewish state, like treating vulnerable sectors of society correctly, economic and social justice, and equality for non-Jews is often ignored,” Regev continued.

From a legal perspective, the situation is more complex than many might think, says Hebrew University law Prof. Barak Medina.

A prohibition, against eating prohibited foods in certain public spheres in a “loud” manner out of respect for the state’s Jewish character and to avoid offending orthodox emotional sensitivities, could be relevant.

Medina appeared to confirm that Afula could ban holding a “loud” hametz barbecue in a designated public park on Passover, if it provided an alternative park.

But Medina was skeptical Afula had the right to check persons bags before entering or prevent people from eating hametz in the park in a more private and toneddown manner.

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