No Bread on Passover in Jails

An appeal from an Arab inmate who wants Israel's prison service to serve him bread during Passover has been denied by Israel's High Court.

Malkah Fleisher, | updated: 08:16

Israel news file (photo)

Israel's High Court for Justice has denied an appeal from an Arab prison inmate who tried to force Israel's prison service to provide him with leavened bread during the Passover holiday

Mudabba Mahmoud Rayik, who is serving time in a mixed-religion prison for a criminal offense, told the court Wednesday that he is being forced to eat matzah during Passover even though he is a Muslim. 

During the week-long holiday, Jewish people do not eat leavened products such as bread or cakes, due to a biblical injunction. They substitute with matzah, an unleavened bread baked according to strict standards, commemorative of the food eaten by the Israelites who fled from Egypt in the Passover story.

Passover laws, however, also require that no leavened food be visible or extant on Jewish owned premises, and that the kitchen and vessels used for cooking food be very thoroughly cleansed of any leavened bread, including the smallest crumbs. Alternate dishes and utensils are used to be sure they are free of leavened products.

Rayik argued that non-Jews do not have to eat matzah on Passover, and that state facilities do not have to be kosher. He also complained that being deprived of bread was a denial of his basic human rights.

Non-Jews receive bread
According to the Israel Prison Service, facilities with mixed populations are kosher. They stated that Rayik's desire for bread could not supersede the religious need of Jewish inmates to eat matzah and avoid leavened foods during the holiday, which begins at sundown on Monday. They also noted that Rayik would be able to eat bread after Passover, and that serving him bread during the holiday would cause unnecessary cross-cultural tension in the jail.

Judge Elyakim Rubinstein said in his ruling that the state is obligated to provide food for inmates, but not a specific type, and that culinary substitutions for a matter of days should not be considered harmful.

According to the Prison Service's chief rabbi, non-Jews in separate non-Jewish wings are provided with amounts of bread prior to the holiday, which they may opt to eat over the course of Passover. In mixed wards, prisoners' lockers are not checked for leavening, which means prisoners with leavened food products could eat them whenever they please, even during Passover.