Published Spring 2015
The Torah forbids a Jew to own chometz on Pesach . In order to dissuade people from owning chometz on Pesach , there is a rabbinic injunction not to eat or benefit after Pesach from chometz which was owned by a Jew during Pesach . Such chometz is known as chometz sheovar olov haPesach , and it remains forbidden permanently.1
For this reason, one should not buy chometz from a Jewish-owned store immediately after Pesach , unless the owner sold all chometz that he owned before Pesach to a non-Jew for the duration of Pesach , and did not acquire any further chometz during Pesach . The laws of mechiras chometz (selling chometz to a gentile for Pesach ) are complex, therefore the sale must be made by a competent rabbi or kashrus authority.
If a Jewish-owned store did not sell its chometz for Pesach , may one buy chometz from that store a few weeks after Pesach ? It is difficult for the consumer to ascertain whether the chometz was in the store on Pesach and is therefore forbidden, or whether it came into the store after Pesach and is permitted. Since chometz sheovar olov haPesach is a rabbinic injunction, one can be lenient if there is a reasonable doubt as to whether or not the chometz was in the store on Pesach . (This is because we apply the principle that “ safek derabbanan lekula ” – we are lenient when it is uncertain whether or not a rabbinic restriction applies).2
Supermarkets generally have a two week turnaround time. It should be assumed that all chometz sold in the two weeks after Pesach was already in the store on Pesach . Other stores, especially smaller ones, may have a longer turnaround time. The turnaround time for alcoholic beverages is longer than that of products in supermarkets. Liquor stores generally maintain inventory for six or seven weeks. One should wait until after Shavuos before purchasing liquor from such a store.
If one accidentally purchases chometz immediately after Pesach from a store that sells chometz sheovar olov haPesach , one may not derive benefit from that chometz . However, one may return it for a refund as the sale is a mekach ta’os , a mistaken sale. Returning the product does not constitute deriving benefit.
A Jewish-Owned Store That Sold Its C hometz To A Non-Jew For Pesach
As mentioned above, a Jew who owns a store can sell his chometz to a non-Jew for the duration of Pesach . If the Jew is observant and does not sell chometz to customers during Pesach , there is no doubt that he really intended to sell his chometz to the non-Jew before Pesach . However, if the owner is not observant and does not close his store for Pesach , it can be argued that he considers the sale of chometz to be a legal fiction and does not have real intent to sell the chometz . Nevertheless, Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l paskens that, bedieved , the sale is valid because legally the chometz no longer belongs to him.3 However, other Poskim are stringent.4 Even Rav Moshe agrees that chometz that the Jewish owner purchased during Pesach is not included in the sale and cannot be eaten after Pesach .
A Store Owned By A Non-Jew Or By A Person That May Or May Not Be Jewish
If a privately-held store is owned by a non-Jew, one may buy chometz from that store immediately after Pesach . However, a consumer may not know whether the owner is Jewish or non-Jewish. If the store is located in an area where the majority of people are non-Jews, he may assume that the owner is not Jewish. Unfortunately, even if the owner has a Jewish sounding name, the rate of intermarriage in America is such that the name may no longer provide an indication as to whether or not the person is Jewish.
Some food stores are owned by a number of partners, or by shareholders who each have stock in the company. If non-Jewish partners or shareholders own a majority of the business, there is no concern of chometz sheovar olov haPesach .5
A Store That Receives Chometz From A Jewish Distributor
How does a supermarket get the food that it sells? A distributor brings the food from the manufacturer to a warehouse, from where it is sent to individual supermarkets. If the distributor is Jewish, and he owned the chometz during Pesach , that food would be forbidden after Pesach . Even if the supermarket is owned by non-Jews, the food would still be forbidden after Pesach , as it was owned by a Jew during Pesach .
C&S Wholesale Grocers is a wholesale distributor of food and grocery store items. It is a privately held company, and is the largest wholesale grocery supply company in the United States. It currently serves about 5,000 stores in 15 states (including California, Connecticut, Florida, Indiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania). Its customers include Safeway, Target, A&P, Stop & Shop, Giants, Ralphs,Foodtown, and Winn-Dixie. However, the STAR-K does not have information as to which specific products are distributed by C&S, nor which specific stores are serviced by them.
The company was founded in 1918 by Israel Cohen and Abraham Siegel. Rick Cohen is the current chairman and CFO, and is the third generation of the family to lead the company. It is assumed that he is Jewish. In the past, a prominent rabbi arranged a mechiras chometz for C&S distributors. However, as mentioned above, according to Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l this sale would not include the chometz that C&S acquired during Pesach . Recently, another prominent Posek has been selling the entire company to a non-Jew for the duration of Pesach , so that any chometz bought during Pesach would also belong to that non-Jew. While this sale is to be welcomed, it is not without halachic difficulties, and some feel that the sale of a multi-million dollar corporation for the duration of Pesach is halachically questionable.
Stores which receive goods from C&S may also work with other non-Jewish distributors, and it is very difficult to determine whether any particular product was distributed by C&S or by another company. As mentioned above, safek chometz sheovar olov haPesach is permitted, and this would include goods which may or may not have been owned by C&S during Pesach . However, if a person has the option of shopping at a store which does not receive goods from a Jewish distributor that may have owned chometz on Pesach , it is commendable to do so until four weeks after Pesach .6
There are more than 35,000 supermarkets in America, and it is not possible to know who owns them or distributes to every one of them. A local Orthodox rabbi should be consulted for guidance regarding local stores and supermarkets, as well as resolution of any halachic issues.
A&L Foods is a Jewish-owned distributor of kosher food. A&L Foods sells their chometz to a non-Jew through the STAR-K and does not buy or sell any chometz during Pesach .
The Sazerac Company is a privately held alcoholic beverages company, and is the largest distilling company in the United States. Although it produces a variety of alcoholic drinks, the primary focus of its business is bourbon. Although there is some discussion in the Poskim , the general consensus is that the prohibition of chometz sheovar olov haPesach applies to bourbon. To the best of our knowledge, the Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Sazerac Company is Jewish. Although the Sazerac Company recently began selling some of its chometz for Pesach , it will be eight to ten years before that bourbon comes to market. The Sazerac Company ages bourbon for years before selling it, so all their bourbon should currently be considered chometz sheovar olov haPesach and is not recommended year-round.7
1. Mishna Berura 448:25.
2. See Igros Moshe O.C. 4:96, which distinguishes between small and large Jewish-owned stores.
3. Igros Moshe O.C. 1:149, 2:91, 4:95.
4. Maharam Shick O.C. 205, Sdei Chemed vol. 7 page 352.
5. Zeicher Yitzchok siman 8.