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By Rabbi Adir Posy

Each year, as we prepare for Pesach, we are used to a wide variety of rituals that make the holiday experience what we know and love.  Learning about the history of our rituals can make our experience even more rich and exciting.  

Perhaps one of the most interesting parts of the pre-Pesach experience is the sale of chametz. A glimpse into the background and history of this practice can explain many of the more perplexing aspects of this important part of our Pesach preparation.

Why do we sell our Chametz?

The Torah tells us in Shemot 12:19    שבעת ימים שאר לא ימצא בבתיכם- For 7 days Chametz may not be found in your house. Additionally, in Shemot 13:7 the Torah states  וְלֹא יֵרָאֶה לְךָ חָמֵץ וְלֹא

יֵרָאֶה לְךָ שְׂאֹר בְּכָל גְּבֻלֶךָ. “You may not have Chametz seen “for you” in your boundaries.”   The Rabbis teach us that the these mitzvot prohibit Jewish ownership of Chametz from mid-day on the day before Pesach throughout the entire holiday.  The term “for you” adds that as long is the Chametz not owned by a Jew, the prohibition is not violated.  

When did the practice of Selling Chametz begin?

While this practice is rooted in the text of the Torah itself, the sale of chametz has changed over time. Already in the time of the Mishna, the Rabbis proposed the solution of selling chametz to a non-Jew in order to avoid the prohibition of Jewish ownership during the holiday. For many years, this sale was meant to be irrevocable and was not revisited after Pesach.

This issue became more acute during the Middle Ages, where government authorities in many countries with Jewish populations forbade Jews from participating in many mainstream professions. This led many Jews to pursue independent professions in the hospitality industry (such as running inns and taverns) that would require them to manufacture grain-based alcoholic beverages. The prohibition to own chametz on Pesach meant that a major part of the already limited income stream for many Jews was threatened should they be required to dispose of their entire inventory. In response, Rabbi Yoel Sirkis (Known as the Bach) recommended the wide-scale sale of Chametz inventories to Non-Jews.  The chametz would not need to be removed from the Jew’s property if the sale would include a temporary rental of the area where the chametz was stored. Through a variety of mechanisms, this sale could be reversed after Pesach and ownership would revert back to the Jew.

Over the years, many authorities have argued that the sale of chametz should only occur when it comes to a business interest where a great loss will be incurred.  This would allow us to fulfill the Mitzva of תשביתו שאור מבתיכם (destroy all chametz from your house) when it came to our personal chametz. Notwithstanding this argument, it is permitted for a Jew to sell chametz even if it is only for personal use.   

When does this sale take place?

The Torah prohibits the ownership of Chametz from midday on erev Pesach (this year-Friday, April 22.)   Thus, Rabbi Topp will arrange the transaction on Friday morning.  

With the advent of international travel, this presents a problem for members of Beth Jacob who own property in California but travel eastward for Pesach. This is because when Pesach begins in New York or Israel, every Jew there must not own chametz anywhere in the world.  Thus, a situation could arise where a California based Jew may enter into Pesach in Israel still owning chametz!  In order to alleviate this problem, Beth Jacob has a separate contract that allows for an earlier sale that takes place on Thursday evening to accommodate those in an eastern time zone. It is important to remember that even if you are traveling east where Pesach ends much earlier, your chametz is only reacquired once Pesach ends in California.

Does Rabbi Topp really buy our Chametz?

No!! It is a common misconception that the Rabbi (or his agent) buys the chametz from the members of the congregation. In reality, Rabbi Topp is acting as the Shaliach (agent) to sell the Chametz that we own to a non-Jew on our behalf.  This is done to ensure that all of the details of the halachot are followed to make the sale halachically binding.   Each of us signs a contract and engages in a procedure known as a “Maaseh Kinyan” that formalizes the power of attorney that allows Rabbi Topp to act on our behalf.

There are many more intricacies when it comes to this very important transaction. If you have any additional questions, please contact a member of the Beth Jacob clergy.

Shabbat starts Friday: 7:37PM
Shabbat ends Saturday: 8:37PM
Tue, May 21 2024 13 Iyyar 5784