Anger as Pesach sale of chametz is legalised

Shops and restaurants in Israel will be allowed to sell chametz next week over Pesach following a series of legal decisions in Jerusalem.

The ruling that restaurants in Jerusalem would not have to pay municipal fines for selling unleavened products during Pesach 2007 — since the law forbidding the sale of chametz only mentioned “public display” — has angered religious politicians and activists.

Attorney General Menachem Mazuz announced that the state would not be appealing, adding that the judge’s interpretation “confirmed the state’s position for years, that the law deals with maintaining the public spaces in Israel over Pesach, as a Jewish state, without unnecessarily infringing civil rights and religious freedom”.

Despite the “chametz law” of 1986 forbidding the public sale of unleavened products in neighbourhoods with a Jewish majority, few local authorities have ever enforced the law. While most shops in the Jewish sector sell only chametz-free food over Pesach, there are still hundreds of restaurants, delis and a few bakeries that continue manufacturing and selling chametz.

However, in recent years, Jerusalem City Hall, controlled since 2003 by ultra-Orthodox mayor Uri Lupolianski, has sent its inspectors to levy fines for minor infringements. This year, for the first time, Jerusalem City Hall pressed charges against them through the local courts.

The judge’s ruling not only set a precedent, but its timing also left the religious parties unable to push through an amendment closing the “public display” loophole before this Pesach. The ultra-Orthodox politicians roundly attacked Mr Mazuz for “destroying the Jewish identity of the state” and the Shas leader, Trade and Industry Minister Eli Yishai, vowed that “the people of Israel can rest assured, we will pass the appropriate legislation, by next year there will be no possibility whatsoever to sell chametz”.

    Last updated: 4:08pm, May 13 2008