New York – Mechiras Chometz Through Cyberspace: A Halachic Analysis

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    New York – Chabad.org, a Lubavitch website, is offering Jews worldwide the opportunity to sell their chometz online. They advertise that it 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. For those located in Eretz Yisroel, there is even a box to check off indicating if they are keeping Pesach for seven or eight days.

    Chabad.org began providing this service online ten years ago. Last year alone, 25,000 people availed themselves of this service. The process is overseen by Rabbi Yosef landa, Chairman of the St. Louis Rabbinical Council. The question is, however, is such an arrangement permitted according to halacha? And if indeed it is permitted – is it ideal?

    Rav Gavriel Zinner in Chapter 45 of Nitei Gavriel Hilchos Pesach Vol. ! cites the Sefer Tcheiles Mordechai #96 (By the Maharsham apparently in the Shabbos HaGadol Drasha section) that an effective Kinyan is required to effect the Shlichus – messengership 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. However, it is clear from the Shulchan Aruch (CM 182:1) and the Vilna Gaon 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 statement is enough, as all that is required is Gilui Daas, a revelation that this is the desire of the owner.

    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. 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.

    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. The concept of yad poel keyad baal habayis though 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.

    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 Chabad.org is wonderful. And the intent certainly constitutes a tremendous service for Klal Yisroel as well as an educational tool. Indeed, Rabbi Motti Seligson of chabad.org explained to VINNEWS that giving people a quick, simple way to sell their chometz transforms the concept of mechiras chometz from something theoretical to something that is practical and easy to do. It is especially relieving to those whose schedules are so busy that they just cannot get to their regular Rav. Rabbi Seligson further explained that, “The idea is to make Judaism more than just an ancient tradition, but something that is accessible, contemporary and meaningful.”

    However, if one normally has a Rav who one deals with on a regular basis – then the internet sale should be done in addition to the sale of one’s regular Rav and not instead of it – or the regular Rav should be given a gift equivalent to what the Chometz owner usually gives him each year. Rav Moshe Feinstein, in a responsa to the president of a shul in Oceanside, states that in those communities where it is done the obligation to shake hands with the Rav after one receives an Aliyah is part of the Kavod that is part and parcel of the Rav’s salary. Mechiras Chometz schar is no different. There are many Rabbis, both Lubavitch and others 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 [email protected]


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