The Rabbanut and the Internet Selling of Chometz: A Halachic Analysis

2

By Rabbi Yair Hoffman for the Five Towns Jewish Times

Note: Leading halachic authorities have ruled that online authorizations are acceptable for the purpose of selling chametz. The traditional and preferred practice, however, is for the authorization transaction to be done in person with the local rabbi.  The Rabbanut of Israel now makes this service available online at no charge, to provide every Jew with the opportunity to have their chametz sold for Passover.

The Rabbanut of Israel is offering Jews worldwide the opportunity to sell their chometz online.  It now takes less than one minute to delegate a Rabbi to sell your chometz, by filling out a simple form specifying name, address, location of chometz.

While it has maintained a website, this year, one will be able to sell one’s chametz online from any place in the world.

One may sell one’s chametz online until erev Pesach, 13 Nissan, at noon.

It is pointed out that the online sale is intended for those unable to sell their chametz directly to a rav.

There is no charge for the service, and the url for the service is:

https://www.gov.il/he/service/chametz_sale

The question is, however, is such an arrangement permitted according to halacha?  And if indeed it is permitted  – is it ideal?

THE VIEW THAT THERE IS A NEED FOR KINYAN

Rav Gavriel Zinner in Chapter 45 of Nitei Gavriel Hilchos Pesach Vol. I cites the Sefer Tcheiles Mordechai #96 (By the Maharsham in the Shabbos HaGadol Drasha section) that an effective Kinyan is required to effect the agency – or messenger-ship of the Rabbi to make the sale.  The note states that Dibbur – speaking it out – is not enough.  He does rule, however, that if he is in a distant place he may indeed appoint a Shliach through a letter or by telephone or in some similar manner.

One might infer from this that it is best to avoid conducting such a transaction by telephone or by the internet.

THE OTHER VIEW

However, it is clear from the Shulchan Aruch (CM 182:1) and the Vilna Gaon (loco citado) that there is, in fact, no need whatsoever to make a Kinyan when appointing a Shliach.  This is also clear from the Gemorah in Bava Metziah 98b.  This applies to all cases of sales as well.  There is also no need for witnesses either.

The Ramah explains that a Dibbur, a verbal declaration or statement is sufficient, as all that is required is Gilui Daas, a revelation that this is the desire of the owner.

THE MINHAG

The Minhag, however, has always been to sign the shtar harshaah for the Rabbi, appointing him as a Shliach.  We see this in the responsa of the Tzemach Tzedek OC 46.  Perhaps the reason for this Minhag is so that the gentile purchasing the Chometz from the Rabbi will have the correct smichas daas to ensure that it is a valid sale, since many question the entire process and label it haarama – a workaround that is quuestionable.  The Rambam (laws of Mechira 5:13) is suggestive of such an understanding.  He writes there that there are things that do not require a Kinyan, but people do so anyway to indicate that they are not joking but that there is real gmiras daas – full intent of sale.

BECAUSE OF CHOMETZ THAT IS NOT YET EXTANT

Another possibility is that when selling Chometz that is not yet extant, an appointment of a Shliach may not be enough, and a Poel, a worker of the owner, may be preferable.  Some of the people’s Chometz is a davar shelo ba leolam if they are to purchase new chometz that they will sell and the oral permission may not be sufficient for this.

YAD POEL – THE HAND OF THE WORKER IS LIKE THE OWNER

The concept of yad poel keyad baal habayis (See Bava Metziah 118a), the hand of the employee is like the hand of his boss –  may address this issue too.  So a kinyan may make the Rabbi an employee rather than a mere messenger.  Not everyone would necessarily agree to this understanding, however.  And many people do not conceive of an employee relationship being developed with the maaseh Kinyan.

All this discussion deals with orally agreeing – we are discussing, however a case of performing the appointment of the messenger on the internet.  Although a transaction on the internet is questionable in terms of Jewish (and gentile) contract law – it actually addresses the issues brought up here better than a mere oral statement.  In terms of the Rambam’s explanation, the issue of not joking and having Gmiras daas is certainly addressed.  The process on the internet, does not seem to constitute a form of kinyan, though.

SUPPORTING THE RAV OF THE COMMUNITY

All this is in terms of the actual halacha as to whether it may be done by internet or phone.  There is another issue, however.  It is a tradition in Judaism to sell one’s Chometz through the Rav of the community.  This is, in fact, part of the traditional means of compensating the Rabbi for all that he does throughout the year.  In the past few years, we have witnessed a dramatic proliferation of Rabbis who are “opening up shop” just for Mechiras Chometz.  While there is nothing wrong with multiple sales of Chometz through a number of Rabbis (See Minchas Yitzchok VI #38 – who encourages the practice) – the sale of Chometz through the internet or by phone should not replace the Shlichus money given to one’s regular Rav for all that he does.

There is no question that the service provided by the Rabbanut is wonderful. And the intent certainly constitutes a tremendous service for Klal Yisroel as well as an educational tool. It is especially relieving to those whose schedules are so busy that they just cannot get to their regular Rav.

However, it should be done in addition to the sale of one’s regular Rav and not instead of it. There are many Rabbis who rely on the yearly income of selling Chometz to support their fine work.  So let us keep this in mind. May we all have a Chag Kasher veSameach!

The author may be reached at yairhoffman2@gmail.com




2 COMMENTS

  1. Interesting that if you look at the drop/down list of places, they have Czechoslovakia listed, a nation which hasn’t existed for 25 years. There is a separate listing for Slovakia, but none for the Czech Republic. I didn’t go through the entire list for other errors. Reminds me of a quiz program that I heard years ago on Reshet Aleph or Bet, where they made a critical error in geography. Who proofreads these things? (The same person who proofreads some of the YWN articles?) Note that it asks for the location of the chametz, but does not take into account those who may be in a different location from their chametz, or traveling within the week.
    Chabad, incidentally, has a similar service, which does take into account the owner’s location on Erev Pesach:
    Note that it does not ask for the owner’s location on Motzaei Chag, which may simply be a t’nai for a buy-back to take effect later – but not necessarily retroactively if earlier. They may, however, be assuming that someone in a different time zone for Yom Tov will take long enough to return, that it would not matter, and gezel should not be a factor. Alternatively there is likely some provision for retroactive buy-back, designed specifically for those holding one day, whether in EY or in chu”l. The Baal haTanya holds similarly to the Chakham Tzvi, so many Lubavitchers change the number of days they’re holding, based on where they are. The inyan is not quite as critical, as the last 24 hours are d’Rabbanan. The difference between the two sales, which (though one cannot say unequivocally, without seeing the sh’tar and hearing the way it is explained at the times of sale and buy-back) may possibly not necessitate both to ask for the additional information, is that Chabad (IF the m’khira is done in Crown Heights), will buy back after the eighth day, with a retroactive provision meant chiefly for those holding one day, but not necessarily a clause that a repurchase will not take effect until LATER, unless specified as to when. In the case of the Rabbanut, we know that the m’khira is done in EY, so they will certainly re-purchase after Sh’vi-i shel Pesach (i.e., shortly after the end of the seventh day), and their sh’tar (or rather the lashon used when buying back) has to have a clause for its taking effect later, as they realize that there are people holding two days (and especially when they are openly offering to sell for people all over the planet). That lashon may very well be general, in a d’rabbanan situation, not to take effect until “whenever” the regel is over for those people, not requiring specification of a specific time or place.