JERUSALEM — Observant Jews in Israel craving a smoke during the weeklong Passover holiday that starts at sundown Monday can now enjoy a rabbi-approved puff.
It's the first time cigarettes have joined the long list of goods stringently checked to ensure they comply with Passover rules on what items are allowed, or kosher for the holiday — meaning they have not come in contact with grains or other forbidden ingredients.
The stamp of approval came from the Beit Yosef private rabbinic group, which certifies foods as compliant with Jewish dietary restrictions. Last month, Beit Yosef approved three local cigarette brands for smoking during Passover. The chief rabbinate in Israel, however, disapproved of the measure, saying cigarettes are life-threatening and should not be approved by rabbis.
“Poison is not kosher. For all days of the year, not just Passover,” said the chief rabbinate's spokesman, Ziv Maor.
But Rabbi Igal Ben Ezra, Beit Yosef's chief supervisor, said the certification was meant for Israeli smokers who only buy products marked as “kosher for Passover” and who might be concerned about buying cigarettes without such a label. It's “mostly for people who have doubts on this subject,” said Ben Ezra.
The Jewish holiday of Passover celebrates the biblical Exodus story of the Israelites' escape from slavery in Egypt to the Promised Land. According to tradition, the Israelites were in a rush and had no time to let their bread rise as they fled. To commemorate the hasty Exodus, Jews eat matzo, or flat wheat crackers that symbolize unleavened bread, and refrain from foods containing leavening such as pasta during Passover.
During the holiday, Jewish law forbids chametz — anything consisting of grains that may have come in contact with water, starting the process of fermentation.
Jews, including many who are not religiously observant the rest of the year, spend weeks ahead of Passover cleaning their homes and belongings to rid them of any morsel of food considered to be chametz.
The weeklong Passover diet is in addition to the year-round kosher regulations that ban pork and shellfish, require meat to be ritually slaughtered and forbid the mixing of meat and dairy.
And even though only about 20 percent of Israeli Jews identify themselves as Orthodox, statistics suggest almost everyone attends the traditional Passover meal and most Israeli Jews refrain from eating foods that contain forbidden grains throughout the holiday.
To accommodate them, the Israeli food industry transforms ahead of Passover.
Manufacturers of popular snacks substitute their regular recipes with ingredients approved for Passover. Cows eat corn and alfalfa instead of grain-based hay so that observant Jews can drink their milk because religious practice forbids deriving benefit from an animal that has eaten banned grains. Kosher restaurants, including kosher branches of McDonalds, serve buns made of alternative ingredients, such as potato flour.
Determining what exactly is permitted during Passover has become more complicated in the modern age, as rabbis have pondered what to do with products like pet food and pills. Many industries have adapted and as a result, there are now pet products and medicines that are labeled kosher-for-Passover.