Those in charge of the IDF’s not-kosher-for-Passover leaven wished to get a head-start this year on selling it, but the would-be buyer stood them up.
Biblical law forbids Jews from owning leavened products, known as chametz (the ch is pronounced as in the Irish word ‘loch’), during the seven-day holiday of Passover (eight days, outside of Israel). Observant Jews therefore expend much effort cleaning their homes from all unknown chametz before Pesach, burn or otherwise destroy that which they find, and sell to a non-Jew the chametz that they do not wish to destroy – in the confidence that the non-Jew will either sell it back to them afterwards, or otherwise invalidate the purchase (not retroactively).
All was set this morning for a man known as Abu-Shukri, the owner of a famous eatery in the Arab town Abu Ghosh just west of Jerusalem, to purchase the chametz of the IDF. He did not show up at the appointed time, however, and dozens of calls to his cellular phone went unanswered.
Concern was expressed that he might have been threatened and warned not to cooperate with Jews, even though he has done so many times in the past. The search for the missing buyer continues, but the IDF says that in any event, a buyer will be found, and Israel's army will remain Kosher for Passover.
Three Years Ago
In honor of Passover three years ago, this same Abu-Shukri bought all the wheat contracts at the Finexo foreign exchange brokerage company for a down payment of 100 shekels. However, a Hebrew internet site reported the news at the time in a manner that essentially accused the sellers of violating the ban on owning chametz on Passover. The report stated:
“For worried investors who might call the company to find out if their investments are actually in danger of going down the drain, the company will assure them that the chametz-sale contract is only ceremonial, and that the company is sure that Mr. Shukri also knows that this is the case, and the deal will be opened for re-negotiation after the holiday.”
Though the last clause is correct, the rest of the paragraph is not. A valid chametz-sale contract is not at all merely ceremonial, and the signatures of both the buyer and seller on the contract attest to this – regardless of what either signatory may say or even think while signing. Secular law, as well, recognizes one’s signature on a contract as being binding.
On the other hand, the contract itself states that the deal will be opened for re-negotiation immediately after the holiday, and that if not, it becomes automatically invalidated – and not retroactively.
Neither a Trick, Nor a Ploy
The sale of chametz is often derided as a trick and ploy to “allow” religious Jews to violate the Biblical ban on owning chametz. It must be said, however, that legal machinations are employed in all societies, including, most famously, various methods of claiming legal tax deductions and other "legal fictions."
The basis for selling chametz is that rules are not iron-clad, but are themselves governed by other rules and methods by which they are applied. The rule against owning chametz is similarly governed by other rules that recognize its sale. The bottom line, then, is that if a Halakhically-valid method of sale is applied to chametz, the seller no longer owns it according to Torah law, and is therefore obviously not in violation of the Biblical ban on having chametz in his/her possession.