Can Israel deny Muslim prisoners bread on Pessah?

A Muslim prisoner petitions the Supreme Court.

March 19, 2010 05:34
2 minute read.
Can Israel deny Muslim prisoners bread on Pessah?

prison 88. (photo credit: )


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Given that bread is the staff of life, is the State of Israel obliged to distribute it to non-Jewish prisoners during Pessah?

Madab Raik and his lawyers, Gilad Barnea and Vered Birger, think it is. The Israel Prisons Service (IPS) thinks it isn’t. When the Tel Aviv District Court sided with the prison authorities, the Muslim prisoner appealed his petition to the Supreme Court.

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The hearing on the request was held on Thursday. The panel of three justices, Supreme Court Deputy President Eliezer Rivlin, Edna Arbel and Elyakim Rubinstein, did not hand down its decision but will, of course, have to do so in the next few days.

According to Barnea, “We think this is a matter of principle, a matter of violating the fundamental freedom of the prisoner.”

Raik is a regular (as opposed to a security) prisoner and therefore is incarcerated in a mixed Jewish-Arab cell block in a Beersheba prison. There are only Muslim Arabs in his cell.

According to attorney Vered Halawa, who represented the IPS, bread is distributed in advance of Pessah to Palestinian security prisoners in Israel’s security prisons, where no Jews are incarcerated.

In all regular prisons, where regular Jewish and Arab prisoners serve their time, often in the same cell, this is not the case. There is no delivery of bread during the holiday and no advance delivery of bread for the holiday.

However, prisoners are allowed to store up bread or other hametz products and eat them during the holiday, she continued.

But Barnea said this was not enough.

“We believe that this ban, the withholding of bread from the petitioner and others like him, is a violation of his constitutional right, one that is neither proportional nor reasonable. The petitioner accepted a proportional constraint [by not asking for hametz products other than bread] in advance. He does not want to drive the prison crazy and therefore the bread does not require any baking or cooking. It can be brought in from the outside.

“In fact, prisoners are allowed to keep bread in their cells, but I want to sharpen the issue. Our basic position states that the IPS has an obligation to supply bread to non-Jewish prisoners even on Pessah. Let it get ready and make the necessary arrangements.”

Halawa argued that supplying the Arab prisoners with bread in a mixed Jewish-Arab environment violated religious law. Those wishing to observe Pessah could not sit at a table where bread was being eaten.

Barnea said there were ways to get around this problem, for example, by setting different meal times for those observing Pessah and those who do not. He also quoted Jewish sources, including the Shulchan Aruch, the Rambam, and Rabbi Mordechai Eliahu, “all of whom said clearly that when talking about a goy, even if he is under the authority of a Jew, and even if he eats at the table of a Jew, there is no problem regarding kashrut, there is no requirement to forbid hametz even though he knows that the prohibition regarding hametz includes not being allowed to see it.”

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