Law and order

A little lost? You're not alone. The first question that likely comes to mind is: Have we or have we not been breaking the law for the past 22 years? Well, it depends whom you ask. And it also depends on what you mean by breaking the law. In the city attorney's office, the professionals say that the latest ruling doesn't represent a change in the 1986 Hametz Law. "The original idea was that the state doesn't look into your private [life], but the public space should respect the Jewish traditions," explains an attorney from the municipal Legal Office. Attorney Gilad Barnea, who represented Restobar owner Shahar Levy, one of the five indicted, says that for years, the laissez-faire attitude toward the enforcement of the 1986 Hametz Law was well known among business owners. "Each Pessah, the municipal inspectors would come by. They would ask, sometimes with a wink, every non-kosher coffee shop or restaurant owner if they had a permit, if they paid all their taxes and things like that. If they found bread, they would also - not always - record the violation. But nothing has ever been done with these reports - ever," says Barnea. "Until last Pessah when Mayor [Uri] Lupolianski sent out his inspectors, they recorded the violations and, surprise: the municipality, through its head prosecutor, filed 13 lawsuits [against business owners who had violated the Hametz Law] . "Most of them reached some kind of arrangement [with the municipality] - they paid fines and the criminal charges were dropped. The last five, however, decided to fight back, and reached the surprising ruling on April 3." Sources at Kikar Safra said this week that in this particular case, the decision to enforce the legislation and file the lawsuits was made directly by the sixth floor, without passing through the city attorney, Yossi Havilio, whose known position was always against these eventual indictments. While this is true, the fact is that although most indictments go through Havilio, it is not impossible nor unlawful to present them directly through the city prosecutor, as done in this case. The Hametz law passed in the Knesset in 1986, and was presented by the late Avner Shaki (National Religious Party). According to the law, the Interior Ministry alone has the right to train municipal inspectors in writing up violators of the law. For years, however, the Hametz Law was not enforced in Jerusalem. Former mayor Teddy Kollek didn't even dream of sending municipal inspectors to check for hametz in restaurants, especially since in his day the number of non-kosher establishments was negligible. Kollek's successor, Ehud Olmert, was also very wary of enforcing the legislation, lest he increase secular-religious tensions in the city. Later on, when Avraham Poraz of Shinui was interior minister, he refused to train municipal inspectors on the matter. As a result, the number of non-kosher restaurants and coffee shops open on Shabbat and selling hametz continued to rise. During Eli Yishai's (Shas) term at the Interior Ministry, inspectors were dispatched and violations recorded, but still, nothing came of it - until last year, when then-interior minister Ronnie Bar-On allowed inspectors to check for hametz and the Jerusalem Municipality decided to fine those violating the law. After the shock of last week's ruling, the Shas MKs decided to ask for a special debate on the issue at the Knesset and more importantly, at the weekly cabinet meeting. Olmert, however, decided to take the issue off the government agenda, causing a great deal of anger among his haredi coalition members. The assumption at press time is that the municipality - meaning the mayor - will present an appeal. But according to sources at Kikar Safra, the city attorney, in agreement with Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz, will probably refuse to represent the municipality in this case. "Havilio believes that the judge's ruling is in perfect accordance with the law and therefore, he will certainly not present an appeal," said a source at the municipal Legal Office.