Why is this Pessah no different from last year’s Pessah?

Because bread can still be displayed in restaurants and grocery stores.

By DAN IZENBERG
April 1, 2010 04:20
3 minute read.
A woman shopping for bread (illustrative - Ariel J

bread 311. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)

 
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In case no one noticed, pizzerias, restaurants and grocery stores in Jerusalem that wish to, are displaying bread, buns, pitas and other hametz products made from flour just as they have until now, despite a vow by Shas to put an end to the practice.

The crisis over the display of hametz in stores and restaurants erupted two years ago following a ruling by Jerusalem Local Affairs Court Judge Tamar Ben-Asher Tsaban, who canceled fines issued by the municipality against four businesses that displayed the forbidden products during Pessah.

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She did so based on her interpretation of the 1986 Matzot Holiday Law (Prohibitions on Hametz), which states that during the Pessah holiday “hametz products will not be publicly displayed for sale or consumption.”

Although the law had been on the books for 22 years, it had rarely been enforced until 2008.

Tsaban ruled that the businesses that had been fined, the Terminal 21 grocery store, the Restobar restaurant, Pizza Chilli and Iwo Meat Burger, were selling the hametz within their private property and therefore were not “publicly” displaying their goods.

According to her interpretation, the law applies only to bread and other hametz products made of flour that are displayed on streets and in other public areas.

The haredi parties and some religious Zionist leaders were outraged by the decision and vowed to change the wording of the law so that the judge’s interpretation would no longer be valid.



MK Uri Ariel (National Union) declared at the time that “the judge’s interpretation is overly precise and literal and ignores the substance of the law and the intention of the legislator. However, her ruling obliges the legislator to make the aim of the bill even clearer, so that those who have trouble understanding things, like judges, will not err.”

Despite these and other angry declarations, the law was not changed in time for Pessah 2009 because new elections were held in February and the coalition was not established until several weeks later.

But as early as May 2009, Shas MK Avraham Michaeli submitted an amendment erasing the words “publicly” from the law so that the ban on the display of hametz would apply everywhere.

However, the Shas bill elicited strong opposition even among some of those who disagreed with Tsaban’s ruling. They felt that the Shas proposal changed the religious status quo and stood to be vetoed by other parties in accordance with the coalition agreements.

Schneller explained to The Jerusalem Post that the Shas wording could be interpreted as outlawing the display (and consumption) of these products in the privacy of one’s home.

Schneller proposed changing “publicly” to “in public.” The haredim agreed to the compromise.

However, the somewhat watered-down bill ran into stiff opposition from Yisrael Beiteinu when it was brought for approval to the Ministerial Committee on Legislation on January 24. The party’s representatives declared that they had veto power over the bill.

To prevent a coalition crisis, the committee decided to refer the matter to a sub-committee to seek a compromise.

The issue then disappeared from the public agenda.

On Sunday, Schneller told the Post that the parties had failed to reach agreement and decided that rather than have a public fight over the wording of the bill, it would be better to drop the matter altogether.

The wording of the law is indeed problematic. Many interpret it as prohibiting the sale and consumption of bread and other hametz products made of flour during Pessah. But that is not what the law says. It only forbids the display of these products for sale or consumption.

In other words, even in public places they may be sold and eaten as long as they are not displayed.

Furthermore, as Tel Aviv University law professor Asher Maoz pointed out, the law does not ban non-flour hametz, such as beer, from being displayed and sold in public.

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