Israeli ministers debate chametz ruling

The Israeli Cabinet debated a court challenge to restrictions on the public display of chametz during Passover.

Industry and Trade Minister Eli Yishai, who leads the fervently Orthodox Shas party, used Sunday’s session to complain about a Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court decision last week to overturn municipal citations against grocery stores that display bread during Passover.

The offending shops, the court ruled, had not flaunted the chametz but only chose to offer them to nonobservant customers. Such reasoning did not sway Shas, however, which saw a challenge to a 20-year-old chametz ban.

“This ruling is a black stain on Jewish identity,” Yishai told the Cabinet, according to political sources. He further asked Justice Minister Daniel Friedmann to countermand the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court.

Commentators had speculated that Shas, a junior partner in Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s coalition government, might threaten a walkout but it did not transpire.

Olmert was quoted as telling Yishai that he should not allow the chametz ruling to evolve into a “culture war.”

The 1986 Festival of Matzot Law threatens a fine for public establishments in Israel that put chametz on display during Passover. Enforcement has always been patchy, including in Jerusalem where religious and secular Jews live cheek by jowl with Muslim and Christian Arabs.

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