No kosher hospital cops

The 70-year fight in Israel between religious influence and secular influence is now being waged over who eats what in this country, with the battle line drawn at the entrance to hospitals.

At issue is a petition brought before the High Court of Justice against government policy banning the bringing of any food not marked “Kosher for Passover” into hospitals.

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The petition was filed by the Secular Forum and by Adalah, the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, with the case being heard before justices Neal Hendel, Uzi Vogelman and Ofer Grosskopf.

The state told the High Court that it plans to post “kashrut security guards” at hospital entrances, to ensure that no hametz (leavened food) is brought in during the Passover holiday.

It is absurd. We cannot afford to tolerate religious coercion in Israel. It is wrong on a moral level, a democratic level and a religious level.

Morally, it is hard to justify imposing Jewish religious values on Israel’s non-Jewish population.

What about the Arab father who wants to bring his five-year-old son his favorite wafer? “You can’t force a population to bring… a specific kind of food,” said Vogelman. “After all, all of us visit hospitals.”

Democratically, it is also hard to justify imposing religious values.

People have the right to choose. Secular people need not surrender their privacy just so others can carry out their religious obligations.

Certainly, the right to kashrut must be given to the religious, but only as long as it does not infringe on the rights of secular people to refrain from kashrut observance.

Finally, regarding the value system of Halacha, no Jew violates any commandment by seeing hametz at a hospital. And while the concern is that hametz might mix with Passover-kosher food, people should be able to eat what they want, how they want and where they want in public institutions such as hospitals.

“The rule you have set is very extreme,” Grosskopf told the state’s lawyers, “certainly for those who do not observe kashrut, and even for those who keep kashrut.”

This prohibition by the Chief Rabbinate and the Health Ministry is an added stringency with no halachic basis. This is the religious establishment flexing its political muscle, using food as a weapon to dictate its whim to broad parts of society.

The saddest part is that such a policy creates bad will, alienation and greater feelings of resentment across society.

Before there was ever a law about not selling hametz on Passover in public, one would rarely see it in the streets of Israel.

Once the law was legislated, more hametz was sold. The same applies to the law against selling pork.

Before there was ever a law about not selling pork in public, one would rarely see it on the streets. Once the law was legislated, more was sold.

It’s only natural. When people feel coerced, it leads to a negative reaction and pushback. There is one exception, however: Yom Kippur, where no one drives in the streets of Israel – maybe because there is no law against it.

What is ironic is that the fight involves hospitals, one of the places in Israel where tolerance and coexistence are manifest among different populations.

Judaism is meant to be more inclusive and embracing. Instead of forcing religion, the state should strive to establish an environment of respect and tolerance.

After all, Passover is the Holiday of Freedom.