Usually, the shul rabbi sells the chametz before Pesach.

What happens if the rabbi cannot buy it back after Pesach (e.g. dies, is incapacitated, had to leave town on emergency, etc.) Who is authorized to buy it back? Is it one of the signed witnesses? What occurs if none of them can do it? Who's next?

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    Since the nonJew owns it, he can sell it to whomever he wishes. It depends on the exact contract. Perhaps it is a matter of an automatic condition in the contract when the nonJew owes the remainder of the money due after Pesach. – sabbahillel Mar 9 '18 at 20:20
  • If you don't authorize anyone else than no one else is authorized. This is obvious. There is no chain of command unless you authorized one. If you authorize me to sell your house and I die, my brother doesn't get to sell it instead unless you tell him to. Did you tell the rabbi that you authorize him to authorize someone else? If so then he can authorize that person to act on your behalf. – Double AA Mar 9 '18 at 20:33
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    Are you asking about halacha or about how this is usually done (i.e. how the contract is usually written, assuming there is a "usual")? – Monica Cellio Mar 9 '18 at 22:44
  • @abochur you mean through zakhin? Who's money are you spending? – Double AA Mar 11 '18 at 0:17

It is important to note the Rabbi is not a party to the contract which is between you the buyer of the chametz. The Rabbi is only the messenger (shaliach) who acts on your behalf for this contract. As such, should the Rabbi become incapacitated the contract remains valid since it is between you and the buyer.

If the buyer becomes incapacitated, then he will not pay and the chametz will return to you automatically.

See here for a sample form empowering the Rabbi to sell on your behalf.

The OU also mentions here that

Contrary to a widespread misconception, Rabbis do not buy the chametz. The individual participating in the sale appoints his Rabbi as an agent to sell his chametz to a non-Jew on Erev Pesach.

Second, at least in Israel, contracts are normally written the other way around, i.e., "if you don't pay a million shekels (actually billions or more in the case of the public chametz sold by the Chief Rabbinate) by that date [right after Pesach]) then the chametz that we sold you returns to its original owner".

See for instance this model contract that states explicitly (bottom of first page) that

The Buyer must pay the Subsequent Rent and Subsequent Payment (together, $100,000) on or before the Ending Time. If the Buyer fails to do so, then, at one minute after the Ending Time: (a) the Lease terminates, (b) title to the Transferred Chametz is automatically transferred to the Seller and (c) the Buyer is relieved of the obligation to pay the $100,000.

See a similar, funny, contract here

  • If I understand your answer, correctly, this would mean that if I used the rabbi as my agent, and I know the buyer, I can approach him and buy back my chametz. But can I be an agent for all the other congregants? It seems unfeasible for a few hundred congregants to individual buy back their chometz from the Gentile. Could you clarify this in your answer? – DanF Mar 11 '18 at 15:44
  • Note the second para. There is no need to buy back the hametz. If the buyer of the hametz doesn't pay until right after Pesach, the hametz automatically goes back to you. That is how it is done in Israel at least. So even with an incapacited rabbi and Jew, all the hametz returns to its original owner. I have updated the answer with an excerpt of a contract that shows how it's done. Hope this helps! – mbloch Mar 11 '18 at 18:21
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    What happens if that paragraph is not in the contract? – DanF Mar 11 '18 at 18:23
  • @DanF these contracts need to be professionally prepared and many follow a similar model including these clauses. I don't know what happens if the contract isn't thoughtfully prepared. Possibly you are stuck with your hametz belonging to its new owner. But care should be taken to work through a rav that uses a "strong contract" – mbloch Mar 11 '18 at 18:25
  • It's definitely not true that all rabbis use contracts with that clause that automatically terminate after the holiday. Don't assume your rabbi used such a contract unless you checked. – Double AA Mar 11 '18 at 18:55

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