Friday, August 13, 2010

You can pass over this one...

Passover is one of those holidays even non-Jews have heard of, but it has some interesting aspects in Israel. The premise of the Holiday is celebrating the exodus from Egypt. In case you don’t recall, when escaping Egypt, the Israelites wanted to take some bread with them for the road, but in their rush, they couldn’t wait for the dough to rise, and ate flat-bread. To celebrate this anniversary, the Jewish people are commanded to eat flat-bread during the entire 7-day holiday, and so during this time of year, Jews consume Matzos. Matzos are made with un-leavened dough, and this already makes no sense, because the Israelites did use leaven…they just didn’t let the dough rise. The Jews, as frequently is the case, have taken all of these 10 notches up. First, they declared that un-risen dough is not enough, but it has to be completely unleavened. Second, not only are you required to eat the crappy flat-bread, you are forbidden from eating any leavened dough product for the entire week. Had enough? Heck no! If you are an orthodox Jew, you are required to BURN every piece of leavened dough product in your home. By the way, this goes not only for dough– those who keep the religious law go as far as eliminating many other non-dough products like coffee or even toothpaste, out of fear that some invisible spec of leavened wheat found its way into it. Some take it even farther, burning any consumable that may touch you, like soap.

Some religious groups are easier, and allow you to sell your stock of leavened bread t to someone else, like a neighbor who is not a Jew. This works well for large organizations. For example, every year, before Passover, every city “sells” its leavened bread to some random guy (usually a local Arab) for a ridiculous amount of money, and then, after Passover has ended, buys it back. This does not actually involve MOVING the bread…just transferring ownership.

Thing is; only a small percentage of Israelis are religious, and actually follow this craziness. The religious groups, however, have historically tried to force the secular and atheist population to do so by creating state-laws. One minor success was in establishing a law in 1986 that forbids selling of leavened dough products during Passover. Actually, the law only forbids displaying of such products in public, but it has been the focus of an ongoing war between the secular and religious population ever since. The religious groups try, each election, to have their representatives in various government and city offices, and when they succeed, that officer would use his power to shove various religious laws down the secular population’s throat. With regards to Passover, this takes the form of inspectors who patrol the city during the holiday, and if they find a business that breaks the law, they issue large fines. One problem is that they actually misinterpret the law, and fine even business that don’t actually “display leavened dough products in public”, but the businesses often prefer to pay up rather than spend thousands on legal battles.

In recent years, some businesses realized that “display in public” is exactly what it means, and they can do whatever they want on their private property. This led to a funny incident where some idiot religious fellow tried to protest this by walking nude into some supermarket that was selling leavened bread, claiming it was perfectly legal to be nude, because he was not being nude in public. Correct as he may be, this did not do any good for his cause, as more and more Israelis are becoming secular, and the sale of leavened dough during Passover is at an all-time high.

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