With Purim over, “Pesach season” has officially begun. ‘Tis a season of extremely thorough cleaning, of food shopping, family gatherings and a multitude of homilies on freedom and its many meanings. Most of all, it is a season of charity. Every year, Jewish charities and associations collect money nationwide for the poor and indigent in the name of ‘kimha depisha’, the traditional Jewish Pesach food charity. It is a beautiful expression of how a society can help those in need through the voluntary action of individuals and groups.

The most common charitable contribution during Pesach is food. Indeed, the term ‘kimha depisha’ refers to a contribution of wheat to the needy (specifically ‘wheat of Pesach’). It’s not hard to understand why: food is one of the, if not the major expenses of most households in the country. That expense doubles and even triples around Pesach time, certainly for the overwhelming majority of Jews who observe kashrut at least to some degree.

It goes without saying that the price of food affects the poor more than anything. Poor people go to the supermarket just like those in the middle class or higher. However, while the latter can “eat” higher prices or cut back on luxuries, poorer people have to make harder choices when prices rise, often cutting back in areas that are far more critical to their well-being. This is why charitable drives like the ‘kimha depisha’ are so important.

But there is a far more effective way to help reduce the price of food in this country and improve its quantity without the need for annual charity drives: free the food market. The Israeli market for food and produce is extremely anti-competitive and monopolistic. Importers of food have to pay exorbitant customs duties. Both local and foreign producers need to run a gauntlet of ‘councils’, boards and licenses before they can sell to Israeli distributors.

The result of all this is that food prices are higher than they need to be – “connected” local food producers don’t have to reduce prices because of the lack of competition and unconnected food producers have to charge more to compensate for the money they spend to get approval to sell their wares. The people who suffer the most from all this are those who can least afford to bear these costs – the poor. In the name of protecting a part of local food producers we are harming the very people we care for so dearly this time of year.

So let us declare the Pesach season to be one not just of cleaning and charity, but of freedom – the freedom for everyone whether rich or poor to buy and sell without government interference, for the benefit of all.

Chag Sameach.