Hung up on hametz

Non-kosher restaurants in the capital ready themselves for potential backlash from the ultra-Orthodox community.

March 29, 2010 18:19
4 minute read.
Restobar owner Shahar Levy offers custoers choice

restobar 311. (photo credit: Jeruslaem Post Archives)


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Several of Jerusalem’s non-kosher eateries are bracing themselves for various degrees of protest and even possible violence throughout the week. Despite winning a lawsuit filed against them in 2007 for selling hametz during Pessah, these businesses are still blacklisted by segments of the religious population in the capital.

Avi Ben-David, the owner of Iwo Meat Burger, one of five restaurants involved in the 2007 dispute, says he would not be surprised to see crowds of demonstrators outside the restaurant this year.

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“Last year and the two years before, they came to demonstrate. Last Pessah, every day they demonstrated – [about] 30-40 people. No violence,” says Ben-David. “I’m not going to be afraid of anyone. There are police here.”

At the upscale Restobar, situated just down the road from the Prime Minister’s residence – another defendant in the lawsuit – protests are not expected this year.

Co-owner Shahar Levy is relatively unconcerned about the holiday. “This Pessah is going to be regular,” he says. “We’ll have a menu that’s kosher for Pessah and one that’s not. He who wants to eat matza will eat matza, and he who wants to eat bread will eat bread.

“We’ll keep the hametz inside so it can’t be seen, and we’ll wish a happy holiday to everyone. Live and let live.

“We’re not afraid of violence. If someone comes and speaks peacefully, we’ll speak to them peacefully. If not, then not. We’re not afraid of terror. We live by the law. We’ll call the police if anything happens. We’re not kosher all the year, and not for Pessah either.”

But other businesses are preparing for more serious trouble. Chili Pizza, which continues to sell its regular pies during Pessah – including those with pepperoni and shrimp toppings – was violently attacked last year, and co-owner Eyal Lahav is readying for similar protests this holiday season.

“They tried to burn our store twice last year,” says Lahav, “once a few days before Pessah. The second time, during the middle of the day, they tried to light the gas on fire. The police didn’t catch them.”

When asked if he would do anything differently this year, Lahav said, “[Pessah] is our strongest week in the year. We will keep selling pizzas as usual.”

In response to Chili Pizza’s concern, a spokesperson for the Jerusalem police told The Jerusalem Post, “I hope there won’t be any violence this year. For all of Pessah we will be in force with policemen in Jerusalem. Part of our role during Pessah is to look after any demonstrations.”

The sale of hametz during Pessah has been a hot issue of debate in recent years, especially in the capital. The law on hametz, as it currently stands, states that “No merchant will display a hametz product in public for the sake of sale or consumption.”

In the 2007 lawsuit filed by the Jerusalem Municipality against the five food establishments, the municipality sought close to NIS 13,000 in damages from each of the businesses. An attorney representing the city argued that in a largely traditional place such as Jerusalem, common decency and mutual respect demanded that the sale of hametz be banned during Pessah, noting that leavened products were available in nearby Arab neighborhoods.

But the court ruled in favor of the businesses, stating that although they are banned from displaying leavened products, they are not prohibited from selling them, provided it isn’t done with publicity.

The judge in this case ruled that the hametz had not been sold “in public,” as the kiosks, restaurants and pizzerias in question did not meet the legal definition of a public place. Rather, the products had been sold inside the establishments, where they were not visible from the street.

As a result of the ruling, restaurants and other food purveyors have been allowed to continue selling hametz on Pessah as long as it is done inside.

A spokesperson for Eli Yishai, head of the Shas party – which has been pushing for a more stringent hametz law – said they were hoping to change it. “Shas, in Knesset, was prepared to change the law to remove the word ‘public’ so they are not allowed to sell hametz in public at all. A month ago they tried to change the law. [The process] is ongoing, but not for this year, because the Knesset is on break.”

Lahav, of Chili Pizza, is skeptical that this amendment will be approved. “After we won at court, they are trying to pass a new law, but I don’t believe its going to pass,” he says.

The other businesses involved in the 2007 lawsuit were the Terminal 21 mini market, which could not be reached for comment, and Riff Raff restaurant, which has since closed.

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