The 'chametz law' proposed by MK Moshe Gafni (United Torah Judaism) passed its first reading in the Knesset today (Wednesday). The bill was approved by a vote of 60-49.
The bill is meant to restore the status quo which existed before 2018, when security guards had the authority to prevent people from bringing chametz into hospitals during Passover, when Jewish law (halakha) prohibits Jews from consuming or even owning chametz.
Chametz is the term for any grain product that is leavened, such as bread or cake; consuming it and even seeing it or possessing it is strictly forbidden during Passover.
In 2018, the Supreme Court ruled that the ban on bringing chametz into hospitals over Passover was illegal.
Last year, former coalition chairwoman Idit Silman resigned from the previous government, preventing it from having a 61-seat-majority, over then-Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz's efforts to order hospitals to allow chametz into hospitals during Passover. Silman's resignation and the loss of the coalition's majority ultimately led to the government's collapse and the November 2022 elections in which the current government was elected.
The bill under consideration would anchor the previous restrictions in law and stipulate that hospitals cannot permit chametz to be brought onto their premises during Passover and continue to present themselves as kosher. According to MK Gafni, the legislation is necessary because many religious Israeli citizens would refuse treatment by hospitals which allow chametz on their premises during Passover.
On Sunday, Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara stated that the bill would violate the principle of 'freedom from religion' by imposing an Orthodox religious restriction on the non-Orthodox and secular population.
Gafni has signaled that he is open to amending the bill and softening it after it passes in its first reading and prior to its second and third readings, by allowing hospital directors greater discretion in how they enforce the law.
The religious Zionist organization Ne'emanei Torah Va'Avodah condemned the bill as counterproductive as well as the move to propose it in a more extreme form in order to compromise on it before it becomes law.
"We are witnessing a trend where Knesset members submit offensive law proposals in order to "compromise" and soften them later on. This is a dangerous procedure as it can easily lead to provocative measures from the opponents, causing damage to Judaism as a unifying factor," the organization said.
"The bill concerning chametz authorizes hospital personnel to perform searches in visitors' bags, which Halakhah does not require, and, importantly, is due to cause hatred and to estrange people from keeping the halakhot of Pesach and to respect those who do. Bills such as this one, based on force and violating people's privacy, have never endeared Judaism but have acted as a boomerang weakening the Jewish character of Israel or caused creating separate institutions for orthodox and non-orthodox populations.
"We call upon the members of Knesset who esteem Jewish values to refrain from supporting this bill. This is the only way to assure us of a happy and kosher Pesach without chametz and provocations." the organization concluded.