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There is an established practice to sell one's chametz (leavened products) to a non-Jew over Passover to avoid the biblical prohibition of a Jew owning chametz during the festival. Unfortunately, often the non-Jewish buyer does not consider the sale to actually be a real sale, and neither do many of the Jewish sellers (who would likely call the cops if the buyer showed up on Pesach asking for his half bottle of whiskey and his bliyos in the cholent pot). This can be a real problem halachically since we have a rule that asmachta lo kanya which means that if there is no real commitment or recognition that one is giving something up for real, the agreement is nonbinding and invalid. (This is one of the halachic problems with gambling where the gambler doesn't really expect to lose.)

This may be the main reason many only sell products that are unlikely to be actual chametz (e.g. flour, vinegar, play-doh, perfumes, etc.).

Likewise, this is the reason Rabbi Mordechai Willig of Riverdale, NY only sells to a non-Jewish lawyer familiar with the concept of legal fictions that are nonetheless binding and further instructs him (informing his congregants accordingly) to drop in randomly on the Jewish sellers on Pesach to pick up some of his actually legally acquired chametz.

Is anyone aware of any other rabbis/communities where the non-Jew actually picks up chametz from his sellers on Pesach?

  • I've heard that it has happened from time to time, but I don't have any irrefutable evidence (or even very specific stories!), so I'm reluctant to post an answer. – MTL Apr 16 '15 at 16:08
  • I think Rav Nahum Rabinovitch of Maaleh Adumim relies on heter mechira with regard to shvi'is (I guess because it's just d'rabanan and shaas hadechak) but not by chometz gamur on pesach. – Loewian Apr 16 '15 at 16:51
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I have to rely on my rav's story that he tends to repeat to the congregation each year.

When he was in a different community, prior to his becoming rav in our shul, he occasionally came with the Gentile during Yom Tov, itself, to someone's home. The home owners were surprised to see the rabbi at their door, and, being respectful, they let him in.

The rabbi said, "I have brought the Gentile whom I sold your chametz to, with me, to show you that the sale was not fiction." Turning to the Gentile, the rabbi says. "Sir, The bottle of MacCallan M 1940 is in this closet (hyperbole on the specific item). Please go there, and help yourself." And the Gentile, happily took his bottle of fine whiskey and he and the rabbi calmly left, leaving a stunned Ba'al Habayit. I didn't ask my rav if at the end of Pesach the Gentile returned the whiskey or paid for it.

I'm unaware of my rav having repeated this practice since he moved to our community. He doesn't request house keys, but, most rabbis in my community do request each person's house key at the time of selling the chametz. I don't think any Gentile has actually acted on requesting anything, but IMO, it would be nice if every rav acted the way that my rav did. It would send a clear message that the sale is not fiction or a joke by any means. In a way, laxity promotes mockery.

  • Perhaps that had something to do with why he went on to the next shul;) Could this not have created even more potential problems, e.g. if we assume it was upon the rabbi to explain this possibility in advance to the congregants such that, without this warning, the owner had no real intention to sell (bal yera'eh and also now perhaps lo titein michshol?; plus, is a non-Jew allowed to steal chametz from a Jew on Pesach just because its issurei hanaah [considering he's chayyiv for theft of less than a perutah...) Or did he warn them and he was unexpectedly unheeded? – Loewian Apr 16 '15 at 16:48
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    @loewian - My understanding is that he DID warn them, but, b"n, I shall ask him. I'm not sure I follow your concern about stealing. The Gentile rightfully owns this chametz. He was also allowed entry to the owner's home. Prior to the rabbi's coming in, he did introduce the Gentile and explained why he was there. The owner could have still refused entry, so it's not as if the rabbi or the Gentile went into the house without permission. Regarding the rabbis that request the house keys, giving it is auto consent that the rabbi and/or Gentile may enter your home at any time, even when you're out! – DanF Apr 16 '15 at 17:05
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the noda b'yehuda in response is the one who held of this opinion of giving a key to the storage room where the chametz was kept. and the sdei chemed also brings this as being minhag of his city... so theres a similar minhag...

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    Michoel, welcome to Mi Yodeya, and thanks very much for bringing up these sources! You could make this answer even more valuable by editing in more precise citations (e.g. which responsa numbers) and also by fixing up the grammar. I look forward to seeing you around! – Isaac Moses Apr 16 '15 at 18:01
  • The contract used in my city specifies that the buyer has the right, if the door is locked to him, to break it down to get to his chametz. No keys are then given him. (Well, one is, as m'siras mafteach is a kinyan. But not keys to every home, I mean.) – msh210 Apr 17 '15 at 8:23

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