In an unusual decision, a Jerusalem Municipal Affairs Court judge ruled Thursday that the sale of leavened products inside places of business on Passover does not constitute a violation of the Festival of Matzot (Prohibition of Leaven) Law, 5746-1986, better known as the "Hametz Law".

In the case of the State of Israel v. Terminal 21 and others, Judge Tamar Bar-Asher Tsaban cleared four

According to the ruling, "their actions are not a violation" of the law.

businesses of any wrongdoing for their sale of leavened products (hametz, in Hebrew) over the Passover holiday last year. While the Hametz Law explicitly prohibits the display by "business owners" of specific leavened products "in public," Judge Tsaban ruled that "those places of business owned by the defendants - a grocery store, restaurants and a pizzeria – do not fall under the definition of a 'public' place." Therefore, according to the ruling, "their actions are not a violation" of the law.

The intent of the Festival of Matzot Law, according to Judge Tsaban, is only "to prevent the public display - in the public square - of hametz for consumption or purchase."  However, she explained, the law does not mandate enforcement of religious prohibitions as they appear in traditional Jewish law, which, she implied, would include much more extensive prohibitions.

"The violation of the prohibition to the public display of hametz relates only to the display of hametz in a public place," Judge Tsaban said. "Thus, for example, a table set up in the public commons fulfills this requirement of the law. Which cannot be said for the display of hametz, for sale or consumption, in a closed place of business."

In their arguments for upholding the indictments, prosecutors said, "In a city like Jerusalem, most of whose population is not only Jewish but religious, common decency and mutual respect demand that this law be enforced." They also noted that those seeking leavened products during the Passover holiday can purchase them, legally, in any of the capital's predominantly Arab neighborhoods.

'The Court Passed Over Jewish Law'

The Jerusalem Municipal Affairs Court decision quickly came in for harsh criticism from religious leaders and legislators.

Israel's Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger said of Judge Tsabar's ruling, "To our sorrow, the court has 'passed over' Jewish law." The rabbi explained that the proscription of hametz on Passover "is not open to legal interpretation."

Religious Affairs Minister Yitzchak Cohen (Shas) was far more colorful in his harsh characterization of the court: "In its decision, the court has become hametz in the eyes of the people. I call on the court to stick to what it understands, not Jewish law and not deciphering what is considered a 'public place'.... I will demand that the state file an appeal. If an Israeli court rules like a foreign court and can't understand the forbidding of hametz, perhaps in such circumstances it would be appropriate to turn to the International Court in The Hague in order to receive a

Minister Yitzchak Cohen (Shas) was far more colorful in his harsh characterization of the court.

Jewish decision." The court decision, he said, "puts a gun to the head of the Jewish people."

Knesset Member Zevulun Orlev, chairman of the National Religious Party, asked Attorney General Menachem Mazuz to instruct the state to appeal the decision. "This is a fatal blow to the Jewish identity of the State of Israel and to religious-secular understanding," according to Orlev.. "It is inconceivable that a judge from a municipal affairs court decides fateful issues about the Jewish character of the State of Israel." He called the decision "detached from reality."

MK Moshe Gafni (United Torah Judaism) said that the judge's attempt to be clever led to a decision that contradicted the intent of the legislation. 

'The Hametz Law'

The hametz prohibitions were signed into law in 1986 by then-Prime Minister Shimon Peres and then-Minister of the Interior Yitzchak Peretz, and countersigned by then-President Chaim Herzog. Arutz Sheva presents our readers with the full text of the law that sparked the controversial ruling:

The Festival of Matzot (Prohibition of Leaven) Law, 5746-1986

Prohibition of the Display of Leaven

1. From noon on the 14th of Nissan until twenty minutes after sunset on the 21st of Nissan, the owner of a business shall not publicly display any leavened product for sale or consumption. For these purposes, "leavened product" means: 

(1) bread;

(2) rolls;

(3) pita;

(4) any other leavened flour products.



Restriction on the Prohibition

2. The provisions of section 1 shall not apply:

(1) in the area of a locality in which most of the inhabitants or most of the members of the council of the local authority are not Jews;

(2) in those parts of the area of another locality in which most of the inhabitants are not Jews or most of the business establishments do not belong to Jews;

(3) in the area of a cooperative community in which the business establishments are designed for the requirements of the inhabitants of the locality only.

Penalties

3. A person who contravenes the provisions of section 1 is liable to a fine.



Inspectors

4. (a) The Minister of the Interior shall appoint inspectors for the purposes of this Law from among State employees or from among persons duly appointed wardens or inspectors by virtue of any enactment or from a list of wardens and inspectors submitted to him by local authorities.

(b) An inspector as aforesaid shall have power to carry out investigations as to offenses under this Law.

In the exercise of such power: 

(1) he shall have the powers of a police officer under section 2 of the Criminal Procedure (Arrest and Searches) Ordinance (New Version), 5729-1969;

(2) he may exercise all the powers of a police officer of the rank of inspector under section 2 of the Criminal Procedure (Evidence) Ordinance, and section 3 of the said Ordinance shall apply to a statement taken down by virtue of those powers.

Amendment of the Courts Law

5. The following shall be added at the end of the Third Schedule to the Courts Law (Consolidated Version), 5744-1984(3): "23. Festival of Matzot (Prohibition of Leaven) Law, 5746-1986."

Implementation and Regulations

6. (a) The Minister of the Interior is charged with the implementation of this Law and may, with the approval of the Home Affairs and Ecology Committee of the Knesset, make regulations for its implementation.

(b) The Minister of the Interior may determine the boundaries of those parts of localities to which, by virtue of section 2(2), section 1 does not apply.

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