Arab legal center sues over Passover ‘hametz’ ban in hospitals

Adalah lawyer Sawsan Zaher, who filed the petition, argued that this policy causes the humiliation of Arab patients and their visitors.

Passover seder plate (illustrative) (photo credit: WIKIPEDIA)
Passover seder plate (illustrative)
(photo credit: WIKIPEDIA)
The High Court has been petitioned by Adalah – The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel over the sticky legal issue of whether people may bring leaven (hametz) into hospitals during Passover.
The organization is acting against the Health Ministry’s longtime annual policy of banning the entry of hametz into hospitals during the week of Passover, in an effort not to offend the sensibilities of observant Jews or risk that the food would be mixed.
In accordance with these rules, which have been enforced in hospitals throughout the country, all visitors – including Arabs and secular Jews who don’t observe Passover – have been prevented from visiting their hospitalized relatives, upon refusal to hand over leavened food to security guards at the entrance.
Kosher-for-Passover food is provided to all patients through the holiday, but visitors, who cannot bring in food, have to purchase meals in the cafeterias.
Adalah lawyer Sawsan Zaher, who filed the petition, argued that this policy causes the humiliation of Arab patients and their visitors and violates Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty. “The policy of prohibiting the introduction of hametz is implemented at the hospital entrance. Patients and their families are in a weaker position vis-a-vis the hospital and have no choice but to accept the coercion. This weakness can be described in the face of coercion by the hospital as a condition of holding them hostage.”
A person who needs hospital services during the Passover holiday cannot receive this service elsewhere and thus risks his life, health and bodily integrity, argued Zaher.
“Therefore, coercion that leads to aggressive intervention by public authorities in the decision of the individual to eat – especially when he is in a weakened state, such as hospitalization or sick visits – leaves no doubt about the violation of the liberty, humiliation and dignity of any person.”
The Adalah lawyer continued that many non-Jewish patients had to refrain from eating food that was not kosher for Passover and were “forced to eat kosher-for-Passover products against their will.”
Zaher emphasized in the petition that, following complaints by Arab citizens in recent years, Adalah has petitioned the ministry and Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit, but it “did not receive appropriate answers,” and the ministry has not found a solution.
A ministry spokesman said it received Adalah’s petition. “We are studying it, and our response will be brought to the court.”
As Passover is a month away, Adalah demanded that the court schedule an urgent discussion in order to decide the matter before the holiday.
According to the online Halachipedia, “if a non-Jew brings his own hametz into a Jew’s property, as long as the non-Jew is holding onto the hametz, the Jew doesn’t have to get rid of the leaven. Whether or not one is home for Passover, having a non-Jewish worker eat hametz that belongs to the non-Jew in one’s property on Passover is problematic if it is one’s responsibility to feed one’s worker, or if one usually feeds him (such as a housemaid in the house). However, if one never provides them with food, it’s permissible for the non- Jew to eat hametz in one’s house.”
One may eat at the same table as someone who is eating non-kosher food, “if one puts down something that will serve as a designation that the two aren’t eating together (a place mat or tablecloth in one person’s area).
However one may not eat food at the same table as someone who is eating hametz [if there is no such divider].... If a non-Jew gives a Jew a present containing hametz, one may not accept such a gift on Passover,” according to Halachipedia.