Is the Orthodox Halacha in the USA different than it is in Israel?

The Halacha is the Halacha is the Halacha!

Rabbi Uri Regev and Yifat Solel, attorneys from HiddushRabbi Uri Regev and Yifat Solel, attorneys from Hiddush


This is the mantra that representatives of the Orthodox establishment in Israel and the Diaspora claim repeatedly when they criticize the liberal branches of Judaism. We know that this is not the case, of course, but this is not the place to delve into this debate. Last week, however, we received an amazing illustration of the opposite claim (surprisingly enough, from the representative of the State Attorney's Office at the hearing in the Supreme Court) according to which the Halacha in Israel is the "real” one, while the Halacha in the US is diluted and compromised.

This happened during the Supreme Court hearing on the petition that Hiddush filed together with the Secular Forum, on the subject of kashrut at IDF bases on Passover, which took place on May 29th. At the conclusion of her arguments before the Supreme Court last week, the representative of the State Attorney attempted to justify why, religiously observant Jewish soldiers in the United States, for example, can serve in the military and live with Jewish and non-Jewish soldiers who do not observe the prohibitions of hametz on Passover, while in Israel that is not the case. She explained that "in the US Armed Forces, the soldiers are volunteers, while in Israel, service in the IDF is mandatory, and therefore the rights of the religious soldiers must be respected by strictly observing all the rules of Halacha."

It is difficult to describe the audacity, arrogance and ignorance expressed in this statement. In a few words , the representative of the State Attorney's office claim was basically that since the Jewish soldiers in the United States volunarily put themselves in a halachically compromised situation, they bear the consequences and are unable to strictly adhere to the laws of Halacha. Underlying this claim is a basic misunderstanding of the fact that kashrut rules are universal. It is not about the Israeli Military Rabbinate observing the laws more strictly but rather a “catch as catch can” mentality, i.e. - abuse of the State coercive authority entrusted to the Rabbinate, and expansion of kashrut laws above and beyond the requirements of Halacha, while making false threats that the security of the country would be endangered if their dictates were not obeyed. All this in order to expand the scope of religious coercion.

By the way, this is exactly what the Chief Rabbinate of Israel did about two years ago, when the Supreme Court forbade hospital security teams to check the bags of visitors, employees and patients upon entering the hospital to make sure that they did not bring hametz into the hospital with them. The Chief Rabbinate threatened a false threat with no Halachic basis that if hametz were not kept out of the gates of the hospitals - observant patients would not be able to be admitted to the hospitals during Passover and this would endanger the lives of the religious community. Two years have passed since then, and no one has heard or seen an observant patient who avoided being hospitalized during Passover. Why, then, did they make this threat? Precisely because of that same mentality. They know that the general public as a whole is ignorant of Halacha and would take their word for it, and that politicians for the most part acquiesce to every whim and demand masquerading as religious observance, and no one would therefore stop them. [Other than the rare occasions when the Supreme Court steps in]

As we reported here before, in the petition we asked the court to put an end to the violation of the individual rights of soldiers during the holiday, to stop the humiliating and invasive searches of the private belongings of the soldiers in search of "hametz", to allow the soldiers to receive packages from home during the holiday, and to allow the soldiers who wish to consume food, including "hametz", in their private quarters in a way that does not harm or interfere with the kashrut of the IDF common kitchens and dining rooms.

In our arguments for accepting the petition, we cited, among other things, the most basic Halachic sources, the Shulchan Aruch, as

"in the US Armed Forces, the soldiers are volunteers, while in Israel, service in the IDF is mandatory, and therefore the rights of the religious soldiers must be respected by strictly observing all the rules of Halacha."

well as other sources that clearly indicated that the military Rabbinate "stretches" the Halacha above and beyond what is actually required by Halacha. They threatened that if the soldiers are allowed to bring even a crumb of hametz into the base, religiously observant soldiers would no longer be able to serve on their bases during Passover and the entire operational infrastructure of the IDF would be undermined, hence endangering the security of the entire country. To this we added a fact that is undoubtedly familiar to all our readers in the Diaspora: religiously observant Jewish soldiers serve in armies around the world(such as in the US armed forces), and religiously observant Jewish students study and live in university dormitories along with and in proximity to soldiers/students who are not Jewish or who are not observant and therefore do not observe the prohibitions of hametz on Pesach.


Rabbi Uri Regev, CEO and Attorney Yifat Solel, from Hiddush, with the other petitioners, at the Supreme Court (29/5/2023)


Moreover, over the years, the Orthodox Rabbinic Chaplains and Rabbis at Universities repeatedly clarify that there is no halachic problem with this, as long as it is not about the leaven of the religiously observant person himself and he/she does not consume it. We presented to the court the statement of Rear Admiral (Ret) Rabbi Harold Robinson and as another example, the instructions issued by Rabbi Noah Cheses at Yale University every year in preparation for Passover.

We await the court's ruling, and hope that the Supreme Court will rule that the principles of freedom of religion and freedom from religion do not stop at the gates of the IDF bases. We hope that they understand that the Halacha does not prevent those who observe mitzvot from serving in units and frameworks where there are those that eat hametz, as is the case in the US Armed Forces, universities and in other places in the Diaspora .

Although we do not know how the Supreme Court will rule on this issue and on our claim that the IDF should not be bound by the Chief Military Rabbi's coercive and unnecessarily expansive positions, we are pleased to be able to point to the achievements that have already been granted as a result of the petition, and especially in the announcement by the IDF and the State Attorney’s office that the IDF will ban the practice of " Hametz Roll Calls” and the invasive searches of soldiers' bags and lockers before Passover.

We hope that the State’s treatment of the units (which the court described as "stray weeds") in which these searches and orders took place last Passover) will indeed be implemented in practice. We intend to monitor the situation, to ensure that the privacy of IDF soldiers and officers will be respected, and that their privacy and possessions will not be subjected to invasive searches for hametz.

This petition is important in itself, due to the scope of the infringement on the dignity and freedom of so many soldiers, but it is important to understand that this is only one of many building blocks of the wider struggle to fully realize the values of the Declaration of Independence, which promises freedom of religion and equality. This is a continuation of the struggle in which Hiddush succeeded in the past to change IDF regulations and thus allow for secular and non-Orthodox military burial, and the latest legal achievement in which the State was ordered to register as married Israeli couples on the basis of an online marriage, while remaining in Israel ["Utah Marriage"].

Recently, the importance of our struggle has increased even more since both the "judicial overhaul” and the passing of a State budget are anchored in attempts that promote increased religiosity by multiple state agencies, erosion of religious freedom, and neutralization of the Supreme Court, thereby preventing the Court from subjecting these moves to judicial review.


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