Ask the Expert: Selling Hametz

Can I do it myself?

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Question: I’m a college student and I want to sell my hametz for Passover. One of my suitemates isn’t Jewish. Can I just sell my hametz to her? How do I do it?
–Shayna, College Park

Answer: Did you know that during Passover an Arab man in Abu Ghosh owns almost all of the bread in Jerusalem? I like to imagine him frolicking with bagels and pasta while the Jewish quarter suffers through another sheet of matzah.

As you may know, on Passover, Jewish law prohibits a Jewish person from owning or deriving any benefit from anything made out of five major grains (wheat, barley, spelt, oats, and rye) (Exodus 12:19, 13:7). Collectively, these grains are known as hametz. For years, people got rid of all their hametz before the holiday began. If this is easy for you to do, by all means, eat or toss your granola bars and crackers and then you don’t have to worry about arranging any sale.
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But as early as mishnaic times in the third century CE, if a person didn’t want to use up or throw out his hametz before Passover, he could sell it to a non-Jew, provided the sale was permanent (Pesahim 21a).

In Poland in the late 16th century, many Jews worked in the liquor industry, and used fermented grain to make their product. At Passover, they didn’t want to sell their grain permanently to a non-Jew, because it was the source of their livelihood. So Rabbi Joel Sirkes, a halakhic authority of the time, known as the Bach, began allowing people to sell their hametz to non-Jews without removing the hametz from their own homes, and without selling the hametz permanently. However, Rabbi Sirkes made sure to stipulate that the sale of the hametz must be a real sale, and not a legal fiction: during Passover, you must really think that the hametz isn’t yours, and the non-Jew who buys it must really think that he can use it however he wishes.

Today, there are a lot of organizations and synagogues that will sell your hametz for you. Basically, you fill out a form about where your hametz is going to be during Passover, and the shul or group sells it to a non-Jew on your behalf. You can even fill out forms and do it online. Easy peasy.

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