I am becoming more interested in Jewish observance, and with Passover coming soon, I started thinking about how my grandparents would always sell their chametz (bread, etc.) before the holiday. Can you give me some info about selling chametz for Passover in the modern days?
The Aish Rabbi Replies
One way to dispose of chametz is to burn it – as is customary to do the morning prior to the Passover Seder.
However, many of us have a lot of chametz around the house and would like some way of disposing of it, without having to destroy it all. Hence the institution of selling chametz to a non-Jew prior to the holiday.
The sale must be a full and valid sale. It is not a charade. If not done properly, then the chametz will mistakenly remain in our possession throughout Passover! This is why we have a knowledgeable rabbi arrange the sale.
The contract is worded in a way so that the non-Jew actually has the option of purchasing all the chametz. Inevitably, however, the non-Jew winds up making a small profit from the entire transaction by transferring back the chametz right after the holiday.
Many have a custom not to sell real edible chametz like bread, crackers, whiskey, etc. The exception is when getting rid of it will involve a hardship – i.e. you've got a large quantity of it, it's difficult to obtain, or it's expensive. Certainly you can include a half-bottle of scotch in the sale. Otherwise, you can give the food away to a non-Jewish acquaintance. Some cities specifically host food drives for poor people in the days prior to Passover.
But what about food that's not "real" chametz – i.e. a can of tuna fish that's not labeled "Kosher for Passover," or food that was cooked in a chametz pot? These things you can sell and just not use during Passover.
Whatever you are selling should be put it into a separate cabinet, then locked (or taped shut), and labeled "sold." Your chametz will be sold at mid-morning, local time, on the day of the Seder. It may not be accessed after that time.
By the way, even chametz belonging to a non-Jew that is in your possession must be put away and covered.
Good luck – and just hope that the non-Jew who buys your chametz doesn't decide to undergo conversion during the week of Passover. That would really complicate things!