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There is a Rabbinic prohibition on benefiting from chametz that was owned by a Jew over Passover. In recent years, an issue was raised in the New York area that a major distributor of grocery items in the northeastern United States was suspected of being owned by Jews and not selling its chametz before Passover. This would mean that one could not buy chametz even from Gentile-owned stores that likely purchased their own stock of chametz from (erev) Pesach onward from these Jewish distributors.

Nonetheless, I'm aware of at least one Orthodox community that publishes lists of chain-stores that one can acquire chametz from immediately after Pesach (e.g. Costco). Is this because they are not concerned about the Jewish-distributor issue or could they have ascertained that these chains don't acquire chametz from this suspectedly Jewish distributor. Keeping in mind that chametz she'avar alav hapesach is only forbidden at a Rabbinic level and we do have a general (albeit seemingly limited in its actual customary application?) rule that rabbinic uncertainties are resolved toward leniency, could this be the deciding factor?

I'm curious to know if people have reliable sources or hearsay regarding different observant community's practice regarding this issue. Is it an issue split along modern orthodox (e.g. the aforementioned community I mentioned is affiliated with Yeshiva University's medical school) vs. Charedi communities (e.g. I originally heard of the issue at a "black-hat" synagogue in Monsey)? Are there available rulings/halachik discussions e.g. online? Could the lenient view be one limited to a shaat hadechak (hardship) type of exemption? Below are excerpts of emails from 2 synagogues about the same merchants.

From the Einstein Shul in the Bronx:

Below are details about the chametz sold in stores in our area. Please be aware that this list is not exhaustive and feel free to call or email regarding any questions.

The stores below are either owned by non-Jews or sold their chametz during Pesach.

  1. One can purchase all chametz from stores under the Va'ad of Riverdale

  2. All food in Big Deal Supermarket is fine.

  3. Purchasing food from Fairway is fine as well.

  4. Supermarket Chains/Drug Stores/etc.:

A&P Costco CVS Dunkin Donuts The Food Emporium Garden Gourmet Pathmark Shoprite- in New Rochelle Stop and Shop Superfresh Trader Joe’s Walgreen’s Waldbaum's Stores

  1. Key Food- It is absolutely permitted to purchase any product from Key Food. However, there is some question regarding this store since despite being non-Jewish owned its main distributor is Jewish owned. If one wishes to be strict regarding this matter, this "concern" only exists until all the chametz owned over Pesach was sold. This appears to certainly occur by Shavuot and possibly earlier.

  2. Fresh Direct- It is absolutely permitted to purchase any product from Fresh Direct. However, there is some question regarding this store since, despite selling its chametz it remains open throughout Pesach. If one wishes to be strict regarding this matter, this "concern" only exists until all the chametz owned over Pesach was sold. This appears to certainly occur by Shavuot and possibly earlier.

From a shul in Monsey:

The following stores are acceptable for purchasing chometz: BJ’s, CVS, Duane Read, Rite Aid, Sam’s Club, 7-Eleven, Trader Joe’s, Walgreen’s, Walmart and Wegman’s.

Shoprite is judged on an individual store basis. The Shoprite in Tallman is assumed to be a problem. Pathmark, Target, Stop and Shop, Costco, and Fairway are assumed to be a problem. At these stores, one should not purchase overt chometz, which includes wheat and oat based cereal, cookies, crackers, pretzels, grains, and flour. Products which contain vinegar such as mayonnaise, ketchup, and mustard may be purchased since most domestic vinegar is not chometz, and the alcohol is corn based. We recommend waiting until Lag Bo’omer, to purchase Chometz.

This list will be updated as new information becomes known.

  • How could we comment on a specific individual's ruling if you don't name whose it is? – Double AA Apr 13 '15 at 0:29
  • Actually this is one Rabbinic enactment that is taken very strictly. – CashCow Apr 13 '15 at 9:22
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    There MAY be several issues regarding a large store with large supplies such as Costco, and similar stores: 1 - Not every food item comes from one distributor - how then, would a shopper know which ones came via the Jew? 2 - Some products don't sell as well and chances are that the majority of an item may be pre- and / or post-Pesach stuff mixed with the during-Pesach stuff. When dealing with an unknown mix, maybe there's a leniency? – DanF Apr 13 '15 at 14:43
  • @CashCow Arbitrarily and culturally or for consistent and defined halachik/hashkafic reasons? – Loewian Apr 13 '15 at 17:27
  • @DanF So then the assumption would be that it is a safek d'rabbanan and the stringent position is just a chumra (?) – Loewian Apr 13 '15 at 17:52
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I believe Rav Yisroel Belsky's view was that we should not rely on safek derabbanan to permit buying chametz from stores with Jewish distributors at all times, since if we do so, it is inevitable that we will be permitting chametz she'avar alav ha-pesach at some point.

Rabbi Yaakov Luban of the OU records that he remembers that as a child the custom was often to wait until Shavuos before buying chametz from Jewish-owned stores, but now the assumption is that "inventory in a major supermarket is sold much more quickly; shelves are generally restocked on a daily basis. Nevertheless,

supermarket chains maintain large inventories of products in warehouses for distribution in individual stores, and it is necessary to calculate the turn-around time from the warehouse delivery until the purchase by the customer in the actual store.

Rav Moshe writes (Iggerot Moshe, OC 4:96) that it is permissible to purchase chametz from a supermarket at the point in time when there is a 50 percent possibility that the supermarket purchased the chametz after Pesach. Since chametz sheavar alav haPesach is a rabbinic (and not a Biblical) injunction, one can rely on a principle known as “safek derabbanan lekula” (one can be lenient when it is uncertain if a rabbinic restriction applies), and therefore shop freely in the store.

The question is, When can one legitimately say there is a 50 percent chance that the chametz on the supermarket shelf was purchased by the store after the conclusion of Pesach? How long does it take to establish a reasonable doubt? It is difficult to give a precise cut-off date. Communal rabbis generally tell their congregants when they feel comfortable purchasing chametz, and my impression is that Lag B’Omer (which is twenty-five days after the conclusion of Pesach) is a safe time.

The language of Rav Moshe in this teshuvah is:

שסמוך לימי הפסח הרי אפשר יש להם יותר מאלו שקנו בפסח ואפילו פחות אם ודאי שקנו חמץ בתוך הפסח ואפילו קרוב לודאי הוא כודאי כדלעיל יש לאסור דקשה לשער בזה, אבל באופן דלפי חשבון הימים וכדומה הוא ספק רק שמא יש גם מהאיסור רק כשיעור ההיתר ולא יותר אין לאסור מטעם שאחר הפסח הוא רק ספק דרבנן שהוא לקולא

Rav Asher Weiss (אות ג) discusses whether the rule of safek derabbanan applies to this case, and after concluding that it does, writes that there is no obligation to clarify the safek where this cannot be done easily:

הנה שאלות רבות מתעוררות בכל שנה ושנה לגבי ספיקות שונות אם חמץ נמכר לגוי או לא ויש לעיין בדין ספק חמץ שעעה"פ.

ולכאורה הוי ככל ספיקא דרבנן לקולא. ואכן כך דעת רוב הפוסקים וכמבואר בשוע"ה (סימן תמ"ט סעיף ל' ובסימן תל"ו סי"ט), וכ"כ במשנ"ב (סימן תמ"ט סק"ה), עי"ש.

אמנם בשוע"ה כתב שם (סימן תמ"ט) די"א דיש להחמיר בספק חמץ שעעה"פ ויש לחוש לדבריו אם לא בהפסד מרובה, עי"ש. וכבר כתבו האחרונים להוכיח דיש להחמיר בספק מדברי הרמ"א (סימן תל"ו ס"א) דאם יש ספק חיטה בתחתית הערימה וספק אם נתחמצו מותר למכור הכל ביחד, עי"ש.

אך בסימן תל"ו שם סתם להקל בספק זה וכך נראה עיקר דעתו להלכה בסימן תמ"ט. וגם לא מצינו טעם מספיק למה יש להחמיר בספק זה, ומאי שנא מכל ספיקא דרבנן לקולא. ואף באפשר לברר כבר ביארתי במקום אחר דספיקא דרבנן לקולא אף באיכא לברורי אא"כ יש לברר בנקל כגון לברר אצל מי שנמצא אצלינו אבל כל שיש טורח לברר יש להקל בספיקא דרבנן, ועיין בכף החיים (סימן ק"ס ס"ק נ"ג), ואכמ"ל.

It should also be noted that according to those poskim (including, e.g., Rav Hershel Schachter) who maintain that a corporation does not have the status of a person, there should not be a prohibition of chametz that was owned by a (Jewish) corporation. It is not clear to me whether any poskim actually take this view.

There is also a (minority) opinion among the poskim that the prohibition of chametz she'avar alav ha-pesach does not apply to the chametz of a mumar, since he will not be deterred by the rabbinic prohibition any more than by the biblical one that he disregards.

  • re Rav Belsky's concern - isn't that true with every application of safek d'rabanan l'kula? Is this in a published teshuva? (I believe he has said something similar regarding the OU actually certifying something as kosher when it might not be. I just didn't know that he even said that as a general negation of the principle even for the consumer.) – Loewian Apr 30 '17 at 1:12
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    @Loewian it isn't true in every case of safek derabbanan--if it is a one time application, we don't know for certain whether the issur is being violated. In this case, R. Belsky's argument is apparently that there is certainly a point in time at which the stock in the supermarket will be what was owned by the Jewish distributors on Pesach. If we allow it throughout, we will be allowing chametz at some point. I don't remember where I saw this quoted in R. Belsky's name, and I don't know whether this is a generally accepted principle – wfb Apr 30 '17 at 2:04
  • @Loewian this might be relevant yutorah.org/lectures/_lectureShiurText.cfm?shiurId=723881 – wfb Apr 30 '17 at 2:41
  • So he is saying that safek hashakul by drabanan is distinct from the leniencies of the Rashba and Rosh (and even the Ramo) w/r to bitul b'rov by issurim d'orayta (reliance upon which the Maharshal may maintain is doctrinally essential)? I don't really understand what the reasoning would be to be stricter - tarti d'sathri is where the same party is eating from all possible time periods; here that's extremely unlikely. – Loewian Apr 30 '17 at 5:21
  • @Loewian As for the 1st point, yes bitul be-rov would be different. But I am also not sure whether this really constitutes תרתי דסתרי – wfb Apr 30 '17 at 12:48

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