Hiddush in the legal trenches

IDF forcing soldiers to keep kosher for Passover

Next week, Hiddush will submit a petition to the Supreme Court against the IDF, demanding that it change its regulations regarding its policy on chametz on Passover in army bases.

Source: IDFSource: IDF

Hiddush, of course, supports the legal norm that military kitchens, dining rooms, canteens, and any place where the IDF provides food for its soldiers should be kosher. However, following numerous complaints from soldiers who do not keep kosher regarding the extreme expansion of the Chametz restrictions on Passover, taken by the military and the military rabbinate regarding the prohibitions of chametz on Passover, we initiated legal action in collaboration with a secular NGO.

We demanded that the army allow soldiers that don’t keep kosher and non-Jewish soldiers to keep non-Kosher food, in their private possession, outside the above places where kosher food is prepared or served, and that they be permitted to consume it on Passover. We emphasized that this does not affect or detract from the strict observance of the kashrut of other soldiers. Clearly, the military policy has succumbed to the demands of the Chief Military Rabbinate in this matter, for it exceeds ensuring the supply of kosher food to soldiers. Rather, it enforces the values and religious practices of the rabbinic establishment over non-observant soldiers.

Our petition follows a precedent-setting ruling by the Supreme Court last year. The Chief Rabbinate had demanded that hospitals inspect visitors’ bags during Passover and ensure that they do not bring any food that is not kosher according to the Rabbinate into the hospital. The court ruled that this policy is unconstitutional and infringes on religious freedom, on personal autonomy and on human dignity. Despite our many appeals to the military over this past year - we have not received any answer beyond the response that our demands are being considered.

They caught us by surprise last Tuesday when all the food that was in the fridges, including boxes and jars, was thrown into the garbage...

Following are examples of the many complaints from soldiers and parents who came to us, regarding searches of their rooms, closets, and bags; the commencement of the prohibition on keeping chametz quite a few days before Passover begins, the shortage of food and reduction in its quality and variety; the banning of soldiers from receiving packages, even if they do not contain any food at all; and more:

  1. “I serve at the base... They caught us by surprise last Tuesday when all the food that was in the fridges, including boxes and jars, was thrown into the garbage, as well as all the reusable utensils that were in the drying racks outside the refrigerators. I’m afraid for my place in the unit if my identity is disclosed…”
  2. “My daughter is in the Navy. They were asked to deposit chametz food with the commanders who would return it to them after the holiday. They were also told that kosher food for Passover is allowed only with a stamp of ultra-Orthodox kashrut on it.”
  3. “Today a kashrut supervisor arrived at the base… He opened the fridge and threw everything into the trash, including medicines and vitamins and everything that was open or not ‘kosher for Passover’. Then he saw some girls warming up corn schnitzel for lunch, so he took it from them and threw it in the trash. He left the girls hungry and crying…”
  4. “I am a soldier and today we were informed that a week before Pesach we will be forbidden to bring any food from home… Because after that date, the base will be prepared [as kosher] for Passover.”
  5. “My son came home yesterday madly hungry. He said that the whole week there is nothing to eat at the base. His breakfast on Thursday was made up of one piece of matzah because that’s what there was.”
  6. “At my son's base… the rooms have already been prepared [for Passover] and they have been informed that if anyone is found with chametz beginning on Sunday [a week before Pesach], the entire company will be punished.”

In the petition, we are relying not only upon the ruling of the Supreme Court, but also upon the halakhic opinion we received at our request from a well-known Orthodox rabbi/ scientist. He stated that according to halakhah, the prohibition of chametz does not apply to chametz in the possession of other people, but only regards the chametz owned and in the possession of the individual who observes kashrut:

    “There is not a shred of a halakhic prohibition against being in a place where there is chametz according to all halakhic opinions, without exception. The prohibition of “"[it] shall not be found, [it] shall not be seen," regards you, that is, within a domain that is yours. There is no prohibition on being in a place where others hold chametz, even if they are Jews - and certainly if they are Gentiles. If the place where the chametz is located is a public place then there is no problem at all…
    I have never heard of anyone being prohibited from being in a place where someone holds chametz. The prohibition is on chametz that is in my possession.”

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