Orthodox Jews protest over "evil" Passover ruling

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JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Thousands of ultra-Orthodox Jews in black coats and fur hats protested in Jerusalem on Tuesday against a “wicked” court decision that allows stores to sell food banned by ritual law during Passover.

About 3,500 men gathered in Jerusalem’s main ultra-Orthodox neighborhood to pray and listen to rabbis warn that selling leavened food during Passover in contravention of Jewish law risked bringing destruction upon the city they regard as holy.

“Leaven during Passover will bring devastation on Jerusalem,” Rabbi Amram Hoffman told the crowd. “If you don’t cry over this leaven then Jerusalem won’t stay in our hands.”

To commemorate the biblical Israelites’ hasty exodus from slavery in Egypt, Jewish law forbids eating leavened products during Passover, which began on Saturday.

Parliament passed a law in 1986 banning the display of unleavened food and supermarkets hide bread and other non-kosher products behind plastic covers while many restaurants close for the week.

But in a decision some religious Jews saw as an attack on their way of life, a Jerusalem court ruled two weeks ago that grocery stores and restaurants can display leavened food because they are not “public areas” covered by the 1986 ban.

Posters plastered around Jerusalem’s Mea She’arim neighborhood called the ruling wicked and urged the faithful to “raise their voices against evil leaders.”

Police had feared the protest might turn violent after trouble flared at previous Orthodox rallies over issues such as Jerusalem’s annual gay pride event. But no incidents were reported.

About 20 percent of Israel’s population is Jewish Orthodox.

Reporting by Rebecca Harrison; Editing by XX