firefighter (illustration)
firefighter (illustration)ISTOCK

The Tel Aviv Regional Labor Court ruled on a petition filed by the "Association of Professional Firefighters in Israel" against rules banning firefighters from growing beards.

The court ruled that the order forcing firefighters to shave their beards in order to fit into face masks was given without proper authority by the Chief Safety Officer of the Fire Authority, Lt. Tafser Shai Krenzler, and should therefore be rescinded.

At the same time, the court ruled that if the Firefighting Commissioner bans the growing of beards and his decision is approved by the Internal Security Minister, then the decision decision will be legal and take effect.

The court also ruled on the question on whether beards prevent the masks used by firefighters from properly sealing and protecting them.

Judge Doron Yefet wrote in the verdict that "a review of the experts' opinions, an impression of their testimonies, guidelines from standardization institutes and guidelines from Israel and around the world leads us to a clear conclusion that facial hair in the mask's sealing interface impairs the mask's ability to seal in place, whatever its nature."

Already at the beginning of the legal proceedings the parties agreed that the workers' union, representing the firefighters, would recommend to all firefighters that they shave their beards, but until the court makes its decision, firefighters who grow beards for religious reasons and medical reasons would continue to grow their beards.

The court ruled that the ban on beards should be extended until the beginning of November 2021. A directive from Firefighting Commissioner Dudi Simchi, backed by the approval of the Internal Security Minister, is now expected to permanently ban firefighters from growing a beard.

The ban will be lifted immediately on November 6 if the commissioner does not issue a new directive with the Internal Security Minister's approval.

Despite the ruling that ruled that in principle it is appropriate to prohibit firefighters from growing beards despite the violation of their basic rights, the firefighters' organization considers the ruling an important milestone in its relationship with the Fire and Rescue Commission. "The main meaning of the ruling is that the court ruled that the commissioner could not do what he wanted," wrote fire department chairman Avi Ankuri in a letter to his firefighters.

"There is a law in the State of Israel, and the commissioner must also act in accordance with the law," he added. "The court ruled that by law an infringement of our rights to religious freedom and bodily integrity, and of our right to basic dignity, should be done either through government regulations, or with the approval of the Internal Security Minister. In other words, the court told Simchi that you have boundaries and you should respect your employees," he wrote.