Israel’s chief rabbis sell nation’s bread to Arab businessman in traditional ceremony

Rabbis sign over hundreds of millions worth of goods to a non-Jew for 20,000 shekels in annual traditional ceremony; sale to be reversed after the Passover festival.

By Paul Shindman, World Israel News

Israel’s chief rabbis have sold the country’s chametz – products prohibited by religious law on Passover – to an Arab businessman, the Kipa news website reported Wednesday.

Every year on the eve of the Passover festival the Israeli chief rabbis sell the chametz of the State of Israel to Hussein Jabbar, a resident of the Arab town of Abu Ghosh just west of Jerusalem. Jaber handed over a note worth 20,000 shekels (about $5,600) and will own the goods, technically valued at hundreds of millions of shekels, that belong to the state and some 85,000 individuals and businesses.

At the end of the holiday the rabbis will “buy” the goods back from Jabbar.

A biblical edict for Passover forbids Jews from owning chametz – food products containing wheat, barley, rye, oats or spelt that has in any way fermented or been allowed to rise after coming into contact with water. Passover products like matzah (unleavened bread) are made from specially milled flour that is guarded so that it remains totally dry.

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Chametz includes just about anything made from flour like cakes, cookies, pastas and breads, as well as products that have anything “chametz” as an ingredient like many breakfast cereals, beer and whiskey.

The religious law forbids Jews from owning any chametz during Passover, even if they lock the foods away and out of sight. This is problematic not just for individuals with an expensive collection of Scotch, but also for food producers who over Passover cannot own the raw ingredients for baked goods.

Gaining kosher certification is dependent on proving that no chametz was in the company’s possession. As well, the State of Israel owns vast quantities of chametz in the form of emergency food stocks and food in prisons, hospitals, army bases and other government institutions.

The traditional workaround developed centuries ago is to “sell” the chametz to a non-Jew who “owns” the goods for the duration of Passover. The sale is nullified afterwards. However, during Passover Jabbar owns the chametz the rabbis sold him and Jews are forbidden from touching it.

Individual Israelis can either sell their own chamtez to a non-Jew or sell it to a rabbi who collectively sells chametz, as in the case of the chief rabbis.

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This year’s ceremony was subdued due to the coronavirus crisis and conducted under health guidelines with the participants keeping their distance. Deputy Finance Minister Yitzhak Cohen handled the paperwork on behalf of the government as the practice of selling chametz is an official act detailed in the State Property Law.