Jerusalem eateries worried about hametz violence

Four non-kosher Jerusalem eateries that will sell hametz during Pessah are concerned that haredi extremists will resort to violence in protest.

haredim meah shearim (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
haredim meah shearim
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Emboldened by a recent municipal court ruling but wary of angry demonstrations, the owners of four non-kosher Jerusalem eateries that will sell hametz (leaven) during Pessah expressed concern this week that haredi extremists will resort to violence in protest. The Jerusalem Court for Local Affairs decided on April 2 that stores and eateries can sell leavened products on Pessah as long as it is not done "in public," that is visible from the street. The ruling infuriated haredi and modern Orthodox MKs, and the Orthodox establishment; they all vowed to appeal the ruling or to bypass it with new legislation. "I expect that this year we will see a higher level of violence," said Pini Goldman, owner of the capital's non-kosher downtown eatery Riff Raff, adding that he expects verbal violence to spill over into physical demonstrations by haredim outside his business. He said he had taken out fire insurance for his eatery against possible arson attacks, but that he had not hired any additional security for the time being. "The ones who have to provide security are the police," Goldman said. "We are following the law." A letter from the fiercely anti-Zionist Eda Haredi sect is said to warn Jerusalem restaurant owners that they would be held responsible for selling leavened products during the holiday. The group has set a protest for Tuesday in the city's Mea She'arim neighborhood, and there is concern that some of the demonstrators might try to head over to nearby eateries that sell leavened products. "We are concerned that there will be violent protests," said Adir Lahav, owner of Chili Pizza. In a city where guards outside eateries routinely frisk customers for bombs, the pizzeria owner said he was considering hiring security for his eatery during the holiday due to concern over haredi, and not Palestinian, violence, noting that in years past low-level haredi protests over the sale of leavened products had turned violent. The municipal court ruling - which was blasted by the Chief Rabbinate as "an attack on the Torah" - nullified lawsuits that the haredi-run Jerusalem Municipality filed last year against four non-kosher city eateries and a mini-market for selling leavened products during Pessah. A largely unenforced 1986 law bans the public display of leavened products for sale or consumption during the holiday. The municipal court ruling subsequently received the backing of Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz, who decided this week that the state would not appeal the decision. Mazuz's decision drew the wrath of the Shas party, which vowed to enact legislation on the issue in time for next year's holiday. "This is a hallucinatory ruling that uproots Judaism," Shas chairman Eli Yishai said this week. The party, which has been under pressure to quit the government over negotiations with the Palestinians, pledged to fight the ruling even if it means opposing the government. Opponents of the court's decision had hoped that an immediate state appeal would serve to overturn the ruling and quell, or at least dampen, any clashes over the holiday. "We hope there will be no violence," said Avi Ben-David, owner of the city's Iwo Meat Burger restaurant. "We are not looking for clashes with anyone but simply want to carry on business like we have in years past, without bothering anyone." "We do not want this media attention," he added. "We do not want a battle, and we do not want to fight with the haredi or modern Orthodox public, but we do want to live according to our lifestyle, without hurting others," said Shahar Levy, owner of the city's Resto-Bar. The eatery, which is located in the city's upscale Rehavia neighborhood, opposite the Prime Minister's Residence, is considered to be out of the range of haredi protesters from haredi neighborhoods such as Mea She'arim. "We are not worried about violence," Levy said. Last year, about 100 haredim held a violent protest outside downtown Jerusalem eateries selling leavened products, pelted police with stones, and insulted customers. A recent poll found that more than 80 percent of Israeli Jews will not eat leavened products during Pessah.