Much Ado about Hametz (Extract)

Extract of an article in Issue 1, April 28, 2008 of The Jerusalem Report. To subscribe to The Jerusalem Report click here. The decision by a Jerusalem court judge to drop indictments against four restaurants in Jerusalem charged with serving hametz (bread and other leavened goods) on Passover has sparked angry reactions by ultra-Orthodox party leaders and threatens to ignite a new chapter in the religious-secular cultural war. The judgment revolves around the enforcement of a 1986 Knesset law banning the public display of hametz for the purpose of sales during Passover; the law does not apply to non-Jewish locales in Israel. The owners of the four restaurants - fined for allegedly violating that law - contested the charges. In siding with them, Jerusalem Municipal Court Judge Tamar Bar Asher-Tzaban focused much of her argument on the definition of the term "public" as stipulated in the law. Dr. Yishai Blank, a senior lecturer in the faculty of law at Tel Aviv University, studies the impact of law on public space and argues that the "Passover Law" was never intended to ban the sale of hametz but rather to prevent its overt display in a manner that would offend some of the Israeli public. The Jerusalem Report: What is the definition of a public space? Yishai Blank: The Israeli criminal code distinguishes between two types of public space. There is an area in which the public has unconditional access or right of access, known in Hebrew as tziburi. And there is a space which can easily be seen by members of the public known as pumbi. There are offenses that are prohibited in one public space and not the other. For instance, the burning of foreign flags, and the commission of indecent acts are prohibited in public when public refers to an area in which the act can be seen by others. In a public place where people don't see these acts, they would not beconsidered offenses. The "Passover Law" prohibits the display of hametz in a public place where it can be seen (pumbi), but does not ban it from being in every place where the public has access (tziburi). If the court allows hametz in public places during Passover, then why wouldn't it allow smoking in public places. Both are prohibited by law. Why enforce one and not the other? The prohibition of smoking is meant to protect people from a health risk. There is a reason to curb various liberties - such as freedom of occupation - for the sake of public health. That case is harder to make in the case of religious feelings. The judge in this case emphasized that this legislation wasn't meant to be an adoption of halakhic ( Jewish religious) law, but an attempt to balance between two principles: not offending the feelings of observant Jews and ensuring freedom of occupation. There is no prohibition on the consumption or even the sale of hametz. There is a prohibition on the display of hametz in the public sphere. There is a reason that the legislators chose one meaning of public (pumbi) and not the other. The idea is that when you walk down the street you shouldn't be forced to see hametz. If it's within a confined public sphere - such as a non-kosher restaurant - that's a different matter. Extract of an article in Issue 1, April 28, 2008 of The Jerusalem Report. To subscribe to The Jerusalem Report click here.