Deal or No Deal! The Sale of Chometz
One of the main prohibitions on Passover is the possession of chometz. Chometz is formed when dough made from wheat, barley, rye, oats or spelt is allowed to sit for a period of 18 minutes. This would include not only bread, but all types of food or drink that are made from these types of flour.
The ultimate reason for this prohibition is not known to us but in common with all the mitzvot of the Torah, we keep them because they are G-d’s will and we believe they have fundamental spiritual reasons. Historically though, when the Jewish people left Egypt, they were in such a hurry that they did not have enough time for the bread that they were baking to rise. Our abstention from chometz recalls their enthusiasm. Not only are we forbidden to eat even the tiniest amount of chometz, but we are also not allowed to have ownership of chometz.
Therefore, any products that contain edible chometz, even though they will not be eaten, would also fall under the same prohibition. Any chometz products that one has left in one’s house before Passover must be either consumed or disposed of. In cases where this is not an option, then one sells them to a non-Jewish person for the duration of the festival. This is usually done through the shul rabbi or a competent kashrus authority.
Many people have a mistaken idea of what the sale of chometz is all about. Far from being the symbolic ancient ritual that some people think it is, the seller enters into a legally binding contract with the non-Jewish person whereby the products that they specify are actually sold and the area that they are stored is also sold to the purchaser.
Although the Shulchan Aruch (Code of Jewish Law) allows us to sell our chometz outright before Passover to a non-Jew, the practice has only become more prevalent in recent years. This is mainly due to the large quantities of food that we now keep as stock in our homes.
After Passover, any products which were not consumed are repurchased. The ability to sell one’s chometz is a good example of the flexibility of Jewish law and the rabbis’ desire to find ways to make our life as easy and pleasant as possible. All chometz that is to be sold should be securely put away and kept locked up over Passover to avoid unintentional use.
It is always best to consult a competent rabbi where the circumstances are not straight forward. It is most important that all chometz is disposed of or sold before Passover. Although the non-Jew usually sells it back after Passover, this is an entirely valid and legal sale, both in Jewish and English law. The chometz to be sold should be securely locked away in a room or cupboard, which will not be used over Passover.
It is customary to empower the local rabbi to sell one's chometz by giving him power of attorney. It is a simple form to fill in and send off (or scan/email) which helps us to observe Pesach in its entirety.
Communal Seder: WFUS is not hosting one this year, but if you or someone you know needs a Seder please contact the Shul office or me directly and we will try to arrange hospitality.
Wishing everyone a Happy and Kosher Pesach
Rabbi Wollenberg & Family