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I'm looking for the outer limits of what is considered a valid sale of חמץ. We do use some tools (Shtar, Halifin) to effect the sale and make sure it's "legitimate". As two example issues of this general question:

  • Can a totally ludicrous amount of חמץ be sold at a totally ludicrous price? Does the buyer need to have some credible ability to effect the sale (assets, investors, etc.)?
  • I know a person needs to be a willing party to any sale, but can Hefker Beith Din Hefker be imposed on anyone who is not interested in participating (yes, there are other ramifications, like if the now-former owner eats the food that was just sold he'd be stealing from the buyer, but in theory it should work, right)?

Tying those example issues into an out-there example scenario: could the Chief Rabbinate of Israel sell the חמץ of all the Jews of Israel to a local, non-Jewish day-laborer?

In short, what limits are in place to ensure the sale of חמץ before פסח is legitimate?

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The Kitzur Shulchan Aruch (Ch. 114) states that the sale has to be valid from a civil point of view. Any trace of making this into a religious ceremony invalidates the sale.

He discusses overcharging, which could invalidate the sale; as this clearly makes a joke out of the sale when you know that nobody would pay these ludicrous prices. Supposedly undercharging would be OK if the seller is really prepared to actually suffer the loss.

He does mention that after Pessach the non-Jew is asked to pay up, and if he doesn't have the cash, the Chametz it bought back. It seems that the sale is valid even if there's no real possibility of the original buyer ever being able to pay for it.

Lastly, the Kitzur provides a sample document, and in it every item is priced.

So, to your questions, based in the above:

Can a totally ludicrous amount of חמץ be sold at a totally ludicrous price?

If the seller agrees, then yes.

Does the buyer need to have some credible ability to effect the sale (assets, investors, etc.)?

No. It's perfectly legal to buy things without being able to afford them.

Can Hefker Beith Din Hefker be imposed on anyone who is not interested in participating

How would that work? Once they declare it Hefker, how do they then acquire it, in order to sell it? You can't sell what you don't own.

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