Passover debate highlights religious rift in Israel
Earlier this month an Israeli court decided that stores and restaurants can sell food banned by Jewish ritual law during this week’s Passover holiday. Israeli courts are often arbiters in quarrels between Israel’s influential Orthodox community and its secular majority. This time the ruling has angered the Orthodox.
Ritual Jewish law forbids consuming leavened products known as hametz– from bread to beer– during the week of Passover. The tradition commemorates the biblical Israelites who did not have time to let their bread rise before the hasty exodus from slavery in Egypt.
My article on the Passover debate discusses the details and consequences of the April 3 court decision that overturned the convictions of two restaurant owners, a grocer and the owner of a pizza parlor who sold hametz last year. The court ruled that restaurants and stores can serve hametz because they are not “public areas.”
The decision has been heavily protested, including by a 27-year-old Orthodox man who was arrested by police after he stripped off his clothes in a non-kosher supermarket near Tel Aviv to challenge the definition of “public areas.”
But this is just the latest episode highlighting the rift between Orthodox and secular Jews in Israel.
The courts and attorney general have already intervened several times this past year when Orthodox and secular interests collided, including in debates on religious-public bus lines and same-sex adoption.
Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, a secular Jew, said she did not agree with the court’s decision.
“Most of us don’t follow all the commandments and I disagree with the (ultra-Orthodox) parties on many things, but we have an interest in protecting the values and symbols of a Jewish state,” she told her centrist Kadima faction. “Everyone’s talking about the 60th anniversary celebrations. Every child knows what democracy is, but when they are asked what is a Jewish state, people stand with their mouth agape.”