Shas renews efforts on 'hametz law'

Shas renews efforts on

Shas is pushing to strengthen the Hametz Law - which prohibits the display of bread for sale or consumption during Pessah - before the spring holiday arrives. MK Avraham Michaeli (Shas) on Wednesday submitted an amendment to the law, first passed in 1986, that would override a novel interpretation to it given by a Jerusalem judge nearly two years ago. The goal, Michaeli said, is to reinforce the law and give it the prohibitive strengths originally intended by the legislators. "This is not a religious law; it is a Jewish law," said Michaeli, wary of charges that he and his fellow Shas MKs were engaging in religious coercion. "This is a Jewish state and we should refrain from doing things in the public domain that compromise the Jewishness of Israel. "MKs from other factions are accusing me of arousing dissent by bringing this amendment up for a vote now," said Michaeli. "People need to know that all we are trying to do is restore the original law." Michaeli said that he has been trying to get his amendment passed since May of this year. But various delays have prevented its passing. Now Shas is pushing to get the amendment passed before Pessah, which starts on the evening of March 29. In April 2008, Jerusalem Judge Tamar Bar-Asher-Tsaban rejected indictments against four businesses in the capital, including a pizza parlor and a grocery store, that had sold hametz to customers during the holiday. The state indicted the businesses for violating the 1986 Prohibition on the Display of Hametz Law. But Bar-Asher-Tsaban ruled that the businesses could not be convicted because they had not violated the strict letter of law. The law states that "No merchant will display a hametz product in public for the sake of sale or consumption." The judge ruled that in the cases of the pizza parlor and the grocery store, the hametz had not been sold "in public." Rather, the products had been sold inside the establishments, where they were not visible from the street. "In public," under criminal law, has to be a place which can be "readily seen" by the public. As a result of the ruling, restaurants and other food purveyors could continue to sell hametz on Pessah as long as it was done inside. Now Shas's Michaeli wants to remove the words "in public" from the original law to clear up the matter. Michaeli said he has the backing of MKs from all the religious parties and also from Likud and Kadima. He said that some Labor MKs voiced tentative support. Science and Culture Minister Daniel Herschkowitz said that he would support the amendment in the Ministerial Committee for Legislation. "The State of Israel is both Jewish and democratic," said Herschkowitz. "To protect the Jewish character of the state in the public domain, the Hametz Law was passed. The intention of the legislator was clear and I will endeavor to pass an amendment that will prevent hair-splitting interpretations from distorting this intention." Meanwhile, in response to Michaeli's effort, MK Ofir Paz-Pines (Labor) announced he would present a counter bill that would annul the Hametz Law and permit the sale of bread on Pessah. "The option not to buy hametz is open to all citizens and there is no justification for restrictions on individuals' freedoms," writes Paz-Pines in his bill. "We are tired of religious legislation and from attempts to change the religious status quo," said Paz-Pines. "Shas wants to take legislation that has no place in our legal code and make it even more stringent. If Shas moves ahead with its legislation, I will move ahead with mine."