Selling Chometz before Pesach

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Question #1:

“A room is rented to a non-Jew, because it contains the chometz that was sold to him as part of the mechiras chometz. May I enter the room in order to remove something that was not included in the sale?”

Question #2:

“On an occasional emergency basis, my daughter requires use of a medicine that is not listed as being chometz-free. Should we include this medicine with what we sell to the non-Jew, and if we do, what should we do if she needs it during Pesach?”

Answer:

As we all know, a Jew may not own chometz on Pesach; this is included in the Torah’s double prohibition, bal yira’eh and bal yimatzei. Furthermore, the Torah commanded us with a mitzvas aseh, a positive mitzvah, to destroy any chometz left in our possession after midday on Erev Pesach. According to most poskim, these prohibitions apply both to chometz gamur (pure chometz) and to ta’aroves chometz (chometz mixed into another product). In addition, Chazal required us to search our homes and property the night before Pesach for chometz that we may have forgotten, the mitzvah we refer to as bedikas chometz. According to many authorities, this requirement of searching for chometz is, at times, required min haTorah, and certainly fulfills a Torah requirement.

In addition, Chazal created a penalty on a Jew who owned chometz during Pesach in violation of bal yira’eh and bal yimatzei, prohibiting this chometz from use forever, referring to the product involved as chometz she’avar alav haPesach. I will note that this financial incentive has often proved extremely effective in convincing marginally observant Jews to perform mechiras chometz.

Although a Jew may not own chometz on Pesach, there is nothing wrong with his selling his chometz to a non-Jew before it becomes prohibited. The Mishnah states explicitly that one may sell chometz to a non-Jew before Pesach. However, the Mishnah does not discuss whether I can sell my chometz and leave it in my home, knowing that the non-Jew does not intend to keep or use it. To be more specific, does the Jew’s expectation that he will receive the chometz back invalidate the sale? Also, does the non-Jew really intend to buy the chometz, or does he think that this is a charade, and that he is not really purchasing it? This would, of course, undermine the sale.

The Tosefta (Pesachim 2:6) provides us with background to these questions:

A Jew is travelling by ship and has with him chometz that he needs to dispose of before Pesach. However, the Jew would like the chometz back after Pesach, because there is a dearth of kosher food available. Apparently, the cruise liner being described by the Tosefta did not have a supervised kosher kitchen, nor any supervised airline dinners on board.

The Tosefta rules that the Jew may sell the chometz to a non-Jew before Pesach, and then purchase it back afterwards. Alternatively, the Jew may give the chometz to the non-Jew as a present, provided no conditions are attached. The non-Jew may then return the present after Pesach. Thus, we see that one may sell or give away chometz to a non-Jew and expect it back, without violating any halachos, provided that the agreement does not require the non-Jew to return it or sell it back.

In contemporary times, people usually do not undertake to sell their chometz themselves, but instead appoint a rav to sell the chometz for them. The reason for this is that the  non-Jew does not take the chometz with him; we leave it in our houses. Since this may have the appearance of a charade, the sale must be performed in a way that halacha recognizes as a valid sale. Since these laws are very detailed and complicated, it is better that a lay person not handle the arrangements for mechiras chometz by himself.

When I was in the first year of a previous rabbinical position, I realized shortly before Pesach that one of my shul members, who was an attorney by training, had not yet arranged sale of his chometz. I called him, asking him if this was an oversight. He answered me that he always arranged his own mechiras chometz by drawing up a contract with a non-Jewish business associate.

Halachically selling chometz via a written contract without any other maasei kinyan does not make the chometz the halachic property of the non-Jew. It might still work because of dina demalchusa dina or similar reasons too complex to explain in this article. The bottom line is that according to many halachic opinions, our lawyer violated the two Torah prohibitions of bal yira’eh and bal yimatzei by owning chometz on Pesach, and also the positive mitzvas aseih requiring that we destroy or otherwise cease our ownership of chometz before Pesach. Merely drawing up a contract with a non-Jew is certainly not the way to sell your chometz and be able to leave it in your house over Pesach. Be’dei’evid, after the fact, this sale would probably be considered valid enough that his chometz would not be prohibited as chometz she’avar alav haPesach. Unfortunately, I did not have a relationship with this attorney to explain to him why his plan was not the best approach to the problem. In other words, if you are an attorney trained in American law, realize that you may not be an expert in Anglo-Saxon common law, Chinese law, Napoleonic Code, the codes of Hammurabi, or halacha, even though we can correctly call halacha “Talmudic Law.”

One of the standard methods we use of guaranteeing that the sale of our chometz to the non-Jew is fully valid is to rent to him the area where the chometz is stored. Thus, we return to our first question as to whether I am permitted to enter that area for my own purposes.

There is also another concern involved in entering the area where the sold chometz is located: The Gemara states that it is permitted to have a non-Jew’s chometz in one’s house on Pesach, provided that a barrier the height of ten tefachim (about thirty-seven inches) is constructed around the chometz, presumably to guarantee that no one mistakenly eats it. So, we have two concerns:

(1)   Does entering the area invalidate the sale?

(2)   Is it prohibited to enter the area because of concern that I might eat the chometz?

Regarding the first question, whether entering the rented area violates the sale agreement, several authorities rule that it does not (see Chok Yaakov and Machatzis Hashekel, Orach Chayim 472:1). Regarding the second issue, whether entering the area is prohibited because of concern that you might eat the chometz, this question is raised by the halachic authorities (see commentaries to Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 448:3). Most authorities conclude that it is permitted to enter the area for a brief period of time in order to remove something that was forgotten there (see Shu’t Nimla Tal, Orach Chayim, #167).

At this point, let us examine the second of our opening questions:

“On an occasional emergency basis, my daughter requires use of a medicine that is not listed as being chometz-free. Should we include this medicine with what we sell to the non-Jew, and if we do, what should we do if she needs it during Pesach?”

Most mechiras chometz contracts that I have seen allow for this. They specify that if someone should need a medicine that is sold, the non-Jew permits the use of the medicine, over which he maintains ownership, but that he will be compensated after Pesach for what was used. Since this provision does not exist in all mechiras chometz contracts, I suggest that someone who foresees that they may have this issue should clarify it in advance with the rav who is facilitating the mechiras chometz.

There is another basis to be lenient. Medicines generally do not have a good taste, except for medicines meant for children. Thus, most medicines are inedible, and, according to most poskim,not a chometz problem. Let me explain:

The Gemara states: One does not get punished for violating any prohibitions of the Torah unless he consumes them the way they are usually eaten (Pesachim 24b). It is not prohibited min hatorah to eat or drink a prohibited substance that is now inedible, either because it became spoiled or because a bitter ingredient was introduced (Rambam, Hilchos Yesodei Hatorah 5:8).

Can chometz change its stripes so that it is no longer considered chometz? The answer is that it can lose its status as chometz – when it is decomposed or otherwise ruined to a point that it is nifsal mei’achilas kelev, a dog will no longer eat it (see Pesachim 45b). Since it no longer can be used for either food or feed, it loses its status as chometz that one is prohibited from owning and using on Pesach (Tosafos ad locum; Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 442:9; cf. Rashi, Pesachim op cit., whose position is more lenient).

However, there is a question based on a passage of Gemara that states that chometz burnt before Pesach may be used on Pesach (Pesachim 21b). The rishonim raise the following question: Why does the Gemara say that one may benefit from the burnt chometz, but does not permit eating it, since it is no longer considered food and therefore not included under the prohibition of chometz?

There are two major approaches to answer this question, which result in a dispute in practical halachah. According to the Ran, since the burning rendered the chometz inedible even by an animal, one may even eat it, even though the Gemara does not mention this. This approach seems to have the support of the Rambam (Yesodei Hatorah 5:8), who permits consuming a prohibited beverage after a bitter ingredient was added to it.

However, the Rosh contends that the rabbis prohibited one from eating the inedible chometz because of a principle called achshevei, which means that by eating it one is treating it as food. Most later authorities follow the Rosh’s approach, prohibiting someone from ingesting inedible chometz because of this rabbinic prohibition (e.g., Terumas Hadeshen #129; Taz, Orach Chayim 442:8; Magen Avraham 442:15; Shaagas Aryeh #75).

Does oral intake of a chometz-based medicine qualify as achshevei? If it does, then it is prohibited to ingest inedible chometz even as medicine, unless the situation is life-threatening.

We find a dispute among later authorities whether ingesting medicine is prohibited because of achshevei. We can categorize the positions into three basic approaches:

1. Taking medicine is considered achshevei.

The Shaagas Aryeh (#75) rules that ingesting medicine is prohibited miderabbanan because of the rule of achshevei.

2. Taking medicine is not achshevei.

Rav Moshe Feinstein maintains that medicine never qualifies as achshevei. His reason is that people take even very bitter items for their medicinal value; thus taking something as a medicine does not demonstrate that one views it as food.

3. It depends on why the chometz is there.

The Chazon Ish advocates a compromise position. Although he agrees with the Shaagas Aryeh that consuming something as a medicine qualifies as achshevei, he contends that achshevei applies only to the active ingredient – the item for which one is taking the medicine. However, he maintains that achshevei does not apply to the excipient ingredients, those added so that the medicine can be made into a tablet.

According to Rav Moshe, as long as the medicine is foul-tasting, there is no need to check if it contains chometz. The chometz is nifsal mei’achilas kelev, and the consumption of medicine does not qualify as achshevei. The only need for a medicine list is when the medicine is pleasant tasting.

On the other hand, according to the Shaagas Aryeh, barring a situation of pikuach nefesh, one may not ingest a medicine containing chometz on Pesach, and it is important to research whether it contains chometz. According to the Chazon Ish, this is a concern only when the chometz is the active ingredient, which is rare in a tablet medicine.

A lay person should not decide on his or her own not to take a necessary medicine without consulting with a rav or posek, and, of course, their physician.

Even according to the Shaagas Aryeh, there is nothing wrong with owning or even benefiting from these medicines on Pesach – the only prohibition would be to ingest them. Thus, a Jewish-owned pharmacy is not required to remove from its shelves foul-tasting medicines that are on the prohibited chometz lists.

Regardless as to which approach one follows, one must be absolutely careful not to look down on someone who follows a different approach. In any situation such as this, this attitude will unfortunately cause great harm, since it can lead to feelings of conceit. Remember that the prohibition of chometz is to sensitize ourselves greater to concerns about conceit. It would be terribly ironic if an attempt at being more machmir in the halachic arena would cause someone to become conceited, the exact opposite of the intent of the mitzvah.

According to Kabbalah, searching for chometz is symbolic of searching internally to locate and remove our own arrogant selves. As we go through the mitzvos of cleaning the house, searching, burning, and selling the chometz, we should also try to focus on the spiritual side of this search and destroy mission.