The NGO "Yisrael Hofsheet" filed an appeal to the High Court of Justice on Tuesday against the Health Ministry, Health Minister and the Laniado Medical Center in Netanya, after the latter confiscated wafers from a pregnant woman on Sunday in order to prevent the presence of leavened bread in the hospital during Passover.
The appeal came despite the Knesset passing the "Hametz Law" on March 28, which enables hospital directors to ban or limit the entry of hametz into the hospital building. The petitioners argued that this still did not give guards at the entrance the authority to search bags, adding that this was an unjustified violation of privacy.
The petitioners added that the lawmakers themselves had intended the law to be "declarative" and intentionally did not allow for physical searches of hametz.
The pregnant woman arrived at Laniado on Sunday and was required to leave her snacks in a box at the hospital entrance. After the incident, the woman told Walla News that she had arrived at the hospital for treatment in the at-risk pregnancy unit.
"At the hospital's entrance, a guard asked us to take out all the food we had with us and leave it outside. You get a number and put all of your hametz in a cardboard box, and you can take it when you leave. If you want to eat it, there is a nearby tent where you can eat but it is not allowed inside," she said.
"I'm a pregnant woman," she said, "but it's not just pregnant women. Everyone who spends a few hours or more [in the hospital] wants to eat the food they bring with them. It's outrageous. It's the only hospital in Netanya, it's not like there are other options," she added.
Did Laniado Medical Center follow the new Hametz Law?
The "Hametz Law" says that a hospital director may "set directives prohibiting or limiting the entry of hametz into all or part of the hospital building, which is required in order to maintain Passover kashrut for the patients hospitalized in it."
In addition, the bill requires that a hospital director "take into consideration the rights and needs of patients" before making such a decision. It also requires that a directive to bar hametz be published on the hospital's website and that signs be put up within the hospital., as well as enables the director to appoint a hospital employee to update employees and patients on the matter.
According to the bill's explanatory section, the legislation was intended to overcome a ruling by the High Court of Justice in April 2020, that a ban on hametz denies patients who were forced into hospitalization and do not follow Jewish law from eating in their own personal space, and thus "violates his personal autonomy as an individual, which is a derivative of a person's human dignity and the recognition of a person's value and his freedom, and, since these are restrictions for religious reasons – [violates] the freedom from religion."
While the new bill negates the High Court ruling, it still only allows to notify hospital visitors that hametz is forbidden, and does not explicitly give guards or anyone else the power to actually confiscate food, Yisrael Hofsheet argued.
In addition, the NGO quoted Knesset Health Committee chairman, Shas MK Uriel Busso, as saying during the legislative process that the bill was not intended to serve as a basis for coercion and that no fines would be handed out and no guards would look through bags.
The NGO demanded therefore that the court clarify this to the health ministry and that the practice at Laniado Medical Center ceases.
The Hametz Law drew criticism from a number of organizations and individuals, who argued that its purpose was to curb freedoms in hospitals, which they claimed were public spaces. This was also indicative of other "religious" legislation that the coalition would try to implement, Labor MK Gilad Kariv and others argued.
The issue of hametz in hospitals is an issue that has come up every year in recent years. It even served as the official trigger for former Yamina MK and current Environmental Protection Minister Idit Silman to quit the previous coalition last April and thus for the former coalition to lose its majority in the Knesset.