The Secular Forum, the Hiddush organization, and 14 parents of people either serving or intending to enlist in the IDF have submitted a petition to the Supreme Court, demanding a change to army orders that will enable soldiers, officers, ground-force workers, and IDF employees who do not observe the Jewish kosher laws to possess and consume food that is not kosher for Pesach (Passover) in areas on-base other than the specific areas used by the army to prepare and serve food.

The appeal was filed following repeated petitions to the IDF, the State Prosecution Service, and the Defense Minister, which have yet to receive a specific and dedicated response.

Lodging the appeal were Attorneys Uri Regev and Sagi Agmon from the Hiddush organization which is representing all the petitioners.

“Every year, as the Pesach festival approaches, as part of the preparation on IDF bases and in IDF camps, soldiers are required to entirely refrain from bringing food that is not kosher for Pesach onto base and certainly they are not permitted to consume it,” the petition reads. “They are forbidden to receive packages even if they do not contain food at all. They are required to grant permission for their belongings to be searched, which infringes on their privacy, out of concern that chametz [leavened food that is not permitted on Pesach -ed.] might be found there. Such restrictions extend beyond the Pesach festival itself; from a week or more before the festival begins, everything has to be done according to the orders of base commanders and the IDF Rabbinate.”

In the appeal, the organizations and parents protest the infringement on the rights of soldiers and their free choice, stating: “This involves serious damage to the rights of IDF soldiers – many of whom do not observe the kosher laws and are not interested in them; some of them are not even Jewish. Their right to consume food to their liking is harmed, as are their rights to privacy, to receive packages from family and friends – and they may even be penalized for failing to comply with religious laws that are meaningless to them – and all this in spite of the fact that their consumption of chametz does not do any harm to their comrades who do observe the kosher laws.”

The petition is partially based on a previous Supreme Court ruling dating back to last year, in response to a similar petition submitted by the Secular Forum. That ruling established that hospitals were not permitted to search the belongings of people visiting the hospitalized during Pesach in order to prevent people from bringing chametz onto hospital premises. The ruling also barred hospitals from preventing patients or employees from consuming chametz on hospital premises.

The petition now being submitted demands that the IDF immediately amend its regulations to allow soldiers to receive packages before and during Pesach, and to be in possession of and consume chametz freely, in a manner that does not infringe on the rights of soldiers who do follow kosher laws.

“The present appeal is a further chapter in the legal and societal battle that Hiddush is leading,” said Hiddush head Uri Regev. “What we want is to take the principles of freedom of religion and equality into the realm of action, given that all the political parties, right, left, and center, have ignored these principles and submitted in many areas to the strictures of the religious parties. Army regulations are designed to enable the commission of military operations and also to preserve the integrity of the army – and this has nothing to do with religious coercion in the area of kosher laws. The time has come for people to understand that freedom of religion and freedom from religion are not just nice words but rather fundamental values that a Jewish and democratic state must implement.”

Dr. Ram Froman of the Secular Forum added that, “Just as the Supreme Court annulled the absurd regulations that prevailed in hospitals, we hope and expect that it will do likewise on army bases. With all respect to those who follow the kosher laws, it is inconceivable that secular soldiers should be punished and subjected to unreasonable restrictions because of religious customs that they do not observe. There are many ways to enable secular soldiers to eat their own food without compromising the kosher status of the army kitchens and dining halls.”