Coalition crisis brewing over matza bill

Israel Beiteinu announces refusal to support amendment to bill which Shas insists on passing.

January 25, 2010 06:10
2 minute read.
matza 298

matza 298.88. (photo credit: )


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A coalition crisis appeared to be developing Sunday after Israel Beiteinu announced that it refused to support an amendment to the Matzot Law (Prohibition of Leavened Food) which Shas insists on passing.

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During a meeting of the Ministerial Committee on Legislation, which was expected to approve the bill, Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch (Israel Beiteinu) announced that his party regarded the legislation as changing the religious status quo.

As such, it required the support of all the coalition parties in order to be approved by the government, he said, and Israel Beiteinu had veto power over it.

The committee decided to postpone the vote on the bill for two weeks to give the two parties time to negotiate.

Last week, the interministerial committee conditionally approved a bill sponsored by a group of MKs headed by Othniel Schneller (Kadima). The wording of Schneller's bill was meant to be more palatable to non-Orthodox Jews and was, in fact, accepted by Shas.

According to Schneller's compromise, the law was to say that bread and other hametz (leavened) products could not be sold "in public" (betzibbur) rather than "publicly" (befumbi) as it currently states.

The demand for the change in wording came in the wake of a 2008 decision by Jerusalem Local Affairs Court Judge Tamar Ben-Asher, who ruled that "publicly" meant on the street or in places not privately owned.

By thus interpreting the word, Ben-Asher declared that it was legal to sell hametz in restaurants, grocery stores and supermarkets, which are enclosed and privately owned.

Enraged by the ruling, Shas drafted a bill which called for deleting the word "publicly" altogether and not replacing it with anything else. But Schneller and others feared that the amendment could be interpreted to mean that it would be illegal to eat hametz even in the privacy of one's home.

Therefore, they added the words "in public," which included a definition clarifying that the term referred to any place where the public gathers.

Shas agreed to this change.

Israel Beiteinu, however, insists on leaving the law as is.

"There is no need to change it," Aharonovich's media adviser told The Jerusalem Post. "As things are now, no injury is caused to the religious feelings of anyone if hametz is sold inside a building."

He quoted Aharonovich as saying, "Shas isn't interested in burning the hametz. It wants to burn the coalition."

But MK Avraham Michaeli, the sponsor of the Shas bill, told the Post that the amendment was restoring the status quo rather than changing it.

"We were forced to make this amendment because of the court's decision," he said, adding that it was clear all along that the law was meant to prevent the sale or consumption of hametz in all places where the public gathered and not just on the street.

In her ruling, said Michaeli, Ben-Asher even said as much, by writing that to get that message across, the wording should be changed from "publicly" to "in public."

Michaeli charged that Israel Beiteinu's opposition to the amendment was politically motivated.

"Whenever Shas raises some issue or takes the lead on some matter, there are those who oppose it just because it is Shas. They are not willing to discuss the question in a logical way," he said.

When asked if he understood that a large part of the Israel Beiteinu constituency was made up of immigrants from the former Soviet Union, some of whom were not Jewish and others who were completely secular, Michaeli replied, "That's even worse. This is a Jewish state."

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