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Biur Chametz the Easy Way— Laws of Selling Chametz (Part II)

In last week’s article we explained the general background of the traditional pre-Pesach chametz sale, and began to explore its laws. As we saw, some authorities objected to the sale, but many upheld it. In our day, the sale is commonly practiced not only by owners of production plants but even by private individuals.

This week we will turn to further halachic details of the sale: How is the rabbi, or the person responsible for the sale, appointed by the individual homeowner? When is the sale to the non-Jew actually performed? How do international sales work? And what products should be included in the sale?

Appointing the Rabbi

In Torah law a halachic envoy can be appointed verbally, without a written document (Shulchan Aruch, Choshen Mishpat 182:1). Moreover, there is no need for the envoy to be present at the time of his appointment. Appointment can be made by mail, email, phone, and so on (Tzemach Tzeddek, Orach Chaim 46; Aruch Hashulchan 448:28). Of course, the envoy needs to be informed of the appointment, so that he is able to act on behalf of the appointer.

Nonetheless, the general custom is to make an appointment to sell chametz by means of a written authorization document (see Maharashdam, Choshen Mishpat 146, 170). This adds an element of seriousness to the sale, for the seller will be unable to deny his consent to sell the chametz. Our own ‘internet sale’ ( is equivalent to a written document, even though it does not involve a formal signature.

Some also make a kinyan sudar when giving the document to the rabbi (the appointer raises a handkerchief, or other item belonging to the appointee), which serves to ‘strengthen’ the halachic transfer of the chametz. This act is not essential, and the Chazon Ish (cited in Orchos Rabbeinu, Sale of Chametz 1) did not perform the kinyan sudar.

Many are careful to give the rabbi (or other appointee) a small payment, in exchange for his trouble in selling the chametz. This payment is not obligatory, but some explain that by means of the payment the appointee becomes a laborer of the appointer, which strengthens the status of the appointee in performing the sale as an agent (see Moadim U’zemanim, Vol. 4, no. 275).

Buying Chametz after Signing the Authorization Form

May a person buy chametz after signing the selling authorization form with the rabbi? Some poskim rule that a person cannot make an envoy to sell items that are not yet in his possession, and a person should therefore avoid purchasing new chametz after the document has been signed.

However, if the appointer bought new chametz, and wishes to include it in the sale, the chametz should be placed in the location in the property that is sold or rented to the non-Jew, with the intention that the possession of the chametz should be transferred to the buyer.

A preferable option is to contact the rabbi, and ask him to sell the extra bought chametz (as mentioned, an envoy for selling chametz can be made by verbal agreement).

Some forms include a clause that the sale should apply even to items that are bought after its signing, and this clause is effective according to all opinions (Divrei Malkiel, Vol. 4, no. 22, Sec. 17).

Certain authorities add that chametz can even be sold on behalf of somebody who didn’t appoint an envoy to sell it. The reason for this is that the sale of chametz is certainly in his best interests, and one is therefore able to do it on his behalf, even without his knowledge (Tzemach Tzeddek, Orach Chaim 46). One should not rely on this generally.

Listing Goods and Prices

Must the sold goods be listed in the authorization form, or in the final bill of sale between the rabbi and the non-Jew?

When chametz is sold by means of a rabbi or other communal envoy, there is no need for the chametz items to be individually listed (Iggros Moshe, Orach Chaim I, no. 150). As Rabbi Akiva Eiger writes (Tinyana, no. 7), it is sufficient for a person to write that he wishes to sell “all of my chametz” for the sale to take effect (see also Biur Halachah, 448, s.v. davar muat).

Some do make a general inventory of the types of items that are included in the sale, but not the specific amounts. As Aruch Hashulchan (448:28) writes, there is no need to specify the amount of each item. Nonetheless there are rabbis who are careful to make a careful and detailed inventory (see Kinyan Torah, Vol. 4, no. 43).

Although the sold items need not be listed, it is important to mention the price that the non-Jew is paying for them (Mekor Chaim 448:9; Chayei Adam 124:3). The price should not be set far above the true price of the goods, for this would risk the sale being rendered void (Biur Halachah, loc. cit.). Yet, it is permitted to stipulate a lower price than the market price of the goods (Terumas Hadeshen 130; Chayei Adam, loc. cit.), though some prefer not to do this because it gives the sale a fictitious appearance.

In fact, there is no need to state a concrete price, and it suffices to make a general statement whereby the price of goods will be determined by future estimation (Pischei Teshuvah, Choshen Mishpat 209; Divrei Malkiel op. cit. 51; Iggros Moshe, Orach Chaim 150). This is the general custom. Therefore, if the non-Jew chooses to sell the chametz back after Pessach (which he usually does), the need to make an actual estimation does not arise. Only if and when the non-Jew decides to retain the chametz permanently will it be necessary to perform a valuation.

A similar stipulation should be make concerning the sale or rental of a small part of the appointer’s property, which is transferred to the non-Jew for purposes of making a kinyan (halachic transfer) on the chametz.

The Time of Making the Sale (the 13th or 14th)

The sale of chametz to the non-Jew—the final sale made by the rabbi to the non-Jew—must be performed no later than the end of the fifth hour of the 14th of Nissan (Chayei Adam 124:2). ‘Hours,’ for this purpose, refer to shaos zemanios, which are defined as one twelfth of the period between sunrise and sunset.

If the sale was not made on time, a minority opinion permits the sale up to 60 minutes before the midpoint between sunrise and sunset on the morning of the 14th of Nissan, in the place where the owner of the chametz is situated (Shulchan Aruch 443:1 and Mishnah Berurah 9). One should not rely on this opinion unless a great loss is involved.

Some bring the sale forwards to the 13th of Nissan, before sunset. The purpose is to complete the sale before the obligation of searching for chametz (bedikas chametz) is incumbent. The obligation of bedikas chametz will thus not apply to chametz and places included in such a sale (Mekor Chaim 436:4).

However, many authorities are lenient in this regard, and write that one may complete the sale of chametz on the 14th of Nissan, and still be exempted from searching for chametz in the relevant places (see Binyan Olam 20; Tzemach Tzeddek 36, and many other authorities, who write at length on this question).

The Mishnah Berurah (436:32) cites the two sides of the dispute, and concludes: “Nonetheless, although one should not object to those who are lenient, it is better [for one who wishes to be exempt from searching for chametz] to sell one’s chametz on the 13th.”

Because the sale of chametz exempts the seller from searching for chametz, one who sells his entire house to a non-Jew for Pesach (for instance, one who is going away for the duration of the festival) should exclude part of the house from the sale. This enables him to perform the mitzvah of searching for chametz in the area that was excluded from the sale.

Chametz in a Different Country

An interesting question arises when a person owns chametz in a location different from his current residence. Does the latest time of selling chametz follow the place of the seller’s residence, or the location of the chametz? Authorities dispute this question. The consensus among the poskim is that the timing depends on the location of the seller. In light of this ruling, chametz must therefore be sold before the prohibition of chametz commences in the place where the seller is (See Oneg Yom Tov 36; Ha’elef Lecha Shlomo 206; Iggros Moshe, Orach Chaim 94-5).

According to this ruling, if a person from outside Israel is present in Israel for Pesach, he must ensure that the chametz he left behind is sold before chametz becomes prohibited in Israel (assuming that this is the earlier of the two times). If his family (who are still home) continues to use the chametz in his absence until the time of prohibition, he should ensure that the chametz is transferred to their possession, so that they will be able to sell it according to local time (Minchas Yitzchak 7:25, Sec. 1).

Due to dissenting opinions among authorities, the same rule should be applied in the other direction. If somebody from Israel is abroad over Pesach, it is preferable that he sell his chametz (which he left at home) according to the earlier time of Israel, and not wait for the later time of chutz la’aretz.

What Does One Sell?

Which items must or should one include in the sale?

As mentioned in the first part of this article, some include items of actual chametz in the sale of chametz. Items of actual chametz include such items as bread, baked goods, breakfast cereals, yeast, whiskey, beer, edible medicines (syrups or chewy tablets) that contain chametz, and so on.

Even those who are stringent and do not sell actual chametz, sell numerous goods that are not actual chametz. A good example is flour. The production of flour (as bought in the stores) includes a process of washing and drying, which causes the flour to slightly expand. Such flour may not be used on Pesach (Shulchan Aruch 467:2), but it is not considered to be actual chametz, and many include it in the chametz sale (see Mechiras Chametz Kehilchaso, Chap. 4, note 2).

Similarly, one should sell any grain that wasn’t guarded from becoming chametz. Some even sell wheat that has been prepared and guarded for Pesach, out of concern for wheat kernels that sprouted (Shut Rabbi Meshulam Igra, Orach Chaim 39, Sec. 16).

Chametz that remains intact in utensils should also be included in the sale (though today’s utensils are usually clean). Some even sell the taste of chametz that has been absorbed in utensils. However, there is no obligation to do so (Chazon Ish 117:15). One should certainly avoid selling the actual utensils, for this would lead to a potential obligation of immersion upon their repurchase from the non-Jew following Pessach (see Teshuvos Vehanhagos 294; Devar Moshe loc. cit.).

Some maintain that one who owns shares in a company that produces or owns chametz should include the shares in the sale of chametz. Such shares are not considered to be actual chametz, because many authorities do not see the ownership of shares as being synonymous with the ownership of company assets. Yet, they should nonetheless be included in the sale (see Maharia Halevi 2:124; Minchas Yitzchak 3:1).

As we clear the chametz from our homes—and sell the chametz that we leave behind—let us not forget the symbolism of our actions.

Chazal see chametz as being representative of the yetzer hara, the evil inclination that resides within each one of us. At the time of spiritual freedom, and hence the time when the Jewish People were redeemed from Egyptian bondage, we are obligated to clear the chametz from our homes, and the evil from our hearts.

As we burn the chametz, let each of us reflect on his ways, and return to Hashem with all his heart.

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