Israel’s Passover goy

Jabar Hussein, the Israeli-Arab who buys the State of Israel’s hametz, explains how he becomes the country’s richest man, if only for a few days.

March 29, 2013 09:28
3 minute read.
JABAR HUSSEIN sits in his office at the Jerusalem  Ramada Renaissance Hotel

JABAR HUSSEIN 521. (photo credit: Sam Sokol)


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What does a Jewish state do with it’s hametz, or all leavened food products, when Passover rolls around? It sells it to a gentile.

According to Torah law, a Jew is not allowed to eat or even to retain ownership over hametz during the holiday. Many Jews sell their bread, pasta, cereal and more to a gentile and repurchase it after the festival ends. They lock the food in a cupboard, which then becomes the property of the non-Jewish purchaser.

In the State of Israel, that purchaser – of the entire country’s hametz – is Jabar Hussein.

Hussein is the food and beverage manager at the Ramada hotel in Jerusalem. An Israeli- Arab from the village of Abu Ghosh just outside of the capital, Hussein has been buying the hametz belonging to every government ministry, the security services and those restaurants that sell their hametz through the Chief Rabbinate for years. Hussein took over the job after his predecessor – who was also from Abu Ghosh – discovered that his maternal grandmother was Jewish.

Sitting in his office at the Ramada, which is lined with photos of himself posing with Israeli leaders from Yitzchak Rabin to Binyamin Netanyahu, Hussein told The Jerusalem Post just what is entailed in the annual ritual of purchasing the country’s hametz.

How many years have you been buying Israel’s hametz?

I have been doing this for 15 years, buying the hametz of the State of Israel. I started 15 years ago when the chief rabbi of the state was Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau. In the course of my work as food and beverage manager for the hotel, I meet all sorts of important figures in the state and MKs in the hotel and as such I got to know Rabbi Lau. He brought me into this and explained to me exactly what the significance is of the sale of hametz and since then I buy it every year.

How does it work?

The country’s finance minister gives the chief rabbis the power of attorney to sell the hametz to someone who isn’t Jewish. So the chief rabbis sell it to me.

I sign a contract at the Chief Rabbinate with many clauses and conditions regarding every matter and I need to come with money to pay.

Is there a ceremony?

There is a ceremony on the 20th of the month at the Chief Rabbinate with the Sephardi and Ashkenazi chief rabbis and the finance minister.

How much do you pay?

I pay a down payment of NIS 20,000 [and I get back] the entire amount after Passover.

They sell me all of the hametz belonging to the State of Israel which is worth more than $150 billion.

So you buy millions of dollars worth of merchandise for several thousand dollars?

It’s a beautiful thing. I become the richest man in the State of Israel for Passover.

But they don’t bring trucks to you full of the country’s hametz.

No. It remains in its place. I also [get] the locations, the storehouses. Wherever there is hametz, it becomes mine during Passover.

You have the legal right to enter and inspect.

Certainly. I have the right to go in and check everything I bought. I have to go around and check these things. I do the rounds.

This is also the hametz of the IDF, the police?

Yes, [as well as] the government ministries and what there is on planes. It all becomes mine.

A restaurant that sells their hametz through the Chief Rabbinate, that also becomes yours?

Certainly. They sell it to them and the Chief Rabbinate sells it to me.

Does this ever feel weird to you?

No. I understand it very well and if I can help, why not? I’ll help with happiness.

According to Halacha it is forbidden for Jews to have hametz so I have no problem to buy it for Passover.

What do your neighbors say?

They are interested and I explain it to them and they take it well.

Have there every been problems with the purchase?

There are no problems, but every time it’s funny because the media does their stories about the man from Abu Ghosh who buys all the hametz. There are also people who call me and say, “send me a truck of flour,” because they think that I have it all with me. It’s funny.

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