There is a strong rabbinic decree forbidding the use of hametz after Pessah if that hametz was actually in Jewish possession during Pessah itself. The basis for this decree is to prevent Jews from having hametz in their possession during Pessah, so to speak hoarding it for use after Pessah. The obvious danger is that that hametz will be used on Pessah and there is a prohibition against not only eating hametz on Pessah but also possessing it.
The solution to having use of such hametz after Pessah lies in the long accepted Jewish tradition of "selling" the hametz to a non-Jew before Pessah and of reacquiring it after Pessah. This legal sale is of ancient origin, though it really only came into general use in the late Middle Ages. Jews then increasingly were occupied in operating distilleries for the production and distribution of liquor derived from hametz grain and fermenting agents. Because of the heavy financial complications involved, the use of a legal sale of the hametz to a non-Jew took hold and has become de rigueur for Jewish individuals and companies in our time.
By selling their hametz and only reacquiring it after Pessah, these individuals and companies avoid any problems regarding the use of and benefit from hametz after Pessah. Because of these circumstances, stores and companies notify their Jewish customers that they sold their hametz before Pessah, thus obviating any hesitation in purchasing hametz goods.
As the economies of the world became more complex and intertwined, the rabbinic decisors of Halacha had to deal with new situations and financial arrangements regarding this issue of hametz after Pessah. What about Jews who own shares in public companies that do business on Pessah with hametz goods? What about large supermarket chains outside of Israel which sell their hametz before Pessah but nevertheless continue to sell those products on a regular normal basis on Pessah itself? Does this not render the sale of their hametz to a non-Jew a sham?
In countries that require tax stamps to be affixed to sale documents, is this necessary for the sale of the hametz to the non-Jew and the reacquiring of the hametz after Pessah by the Jews as well? Whose loss is it if the hametz became damaged or destroyed during Pessah while technically under the ownership of the non-Jew? How real does this apparently unreal sale really have to be?
All of these questions have been raised, thoroughly discussed and argued by the great decisors of Halacha of the past centuries. Needless to say, proper solutions have been found and implemented. It is an irony, but a very true one, that it is the very rigidity of Halacha and its absolute adherence to traditional norms and constructs that allows it to be so flexible and fresh in addressing problems such as this.
In Jewish kabbalistic and philosophical thought, hametz on Pessah represents our evil inclination and immoral desires. Pessah is very instrumental in making us more focused Jews and better people. But for this self-improvement mode to take hold within us, the hametz that still somehow remained within us even after Pessah must be removed from our midst. The rabbinic decree regarding hametz after Pessah should not be reduced to its simple, practical terms. Rather it should be elevated to its highest spiritual form. In a world of chaff, we should be the true kernel of nourishing grain, and in a world of self-promotion and swollen puffing, we should continue to be the unleavened matza with its low profile and holy form.
Perhaps this spiritual lesson is one of the very reasons that our rabbis so emphasized the problems associated with the concept of hametz after Pessah. The lessons of disciplined freedom that Pessah created within us have to be reinforced and nurtured after Pessah as well. The temptations of hametz on Pessah are well known to all of us. The harm that undisposed-of hametz after Pessah can cause us should also be recognized and dealt with.
The writer is a noted scholar, historian, speaker and educator. (www.rabbiwein.com)
This article originally appeared on April 13, 2007