After 28 years St. Louis is still the capital of chametz


Photo by Bill Motchan

Bill Motchan , Special to the Jewish Light

The pre-Passover tradition of ridding one’s home of chametz can be done in a number of ways. Those include using it up, giving it away, or destroying by fire, (usually just before the chametz prohibition begins in the sixth hour of the day before Passover).

There is one other higher-tech option that Jews around the world now take advantage of: selling the chametz to non-Jews via an online contract. The nerve center of this worldwide operation is the Morris & Ann Lazaroff Chabad Center in University City.

For 300 years, millions of Jews worldwide have transferred ownership of chametz in their home by selling it to non-Jews. The chametz resides in the Jewish home—but remains untouched and in a secure place. Following the eighth and final day of Passover, the non-Jewish owner then sells the chametz back to its previous owner. Both sales are executed by signing a contract, a bill of sale.

Rabbi Yosef Landa, director of Chabad of Greater St. Louis

In 1995, the sale of chametz was first offered online. It was overseen then, as it is now, by Rabbi Yosef Landa, director of Chabad of Greater St. Louis. On Wednesday, April 5, the night Passover begins this year, the online sale of chametz will commence. In 12 regions of the world, Chabad rabbis consolidate tens of thousands of online chametz sales in the areas they represent. As each time zone approaches the sixth hour before Passover, those sales are combined in a single sales contract here in St. Louis.

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For the past several years, the new owner of the chametz has been Scott Biondo, Jewish Federation community security director. Biondo, who is not Jewish, agrees to the sale and temporarily owns the chametz in the homes and businesses of Jews from Tucumcari to Timbuktu.

The online sale is fast, efficient and practical. While it’s easy to discard a loaf of leavened bread, one might not want to part permanently with a bottle of expensive aged whiskey. This system allows the owner to keep the chametz in their home, but not use it during the seven days of Passover. It’s on the premises but no longer owned by the homeowner.

“I’m keeping this bottle of whiskey in my house and the non-Jew is not actually taking it,” Landa explained. “It’s sitting in the house as it did before, and we are effectuating the transfer of ownership. We want it to be not only legal by Missouri’s law, we want it to be legal in terms of Jewish law.”

Some people prefer an analog chametz sale, and Landa continues to offer that option, via a paper document. Increasingly, the online chametz sale has become a popular method, particularly for Jews who live in areas of the world without easy access to a rabbi who acts as a broker.

The transfer of the chametz is not a loan or temporary ownership, Landa said.

“It’s a permanent sale,” he said. “As soon as the holiday is over, Scott comes back and we make another sale. I say to him, ‘You know that chametz you own—let me buy it back.’ I give him a profit for his trouble.”

Besides the efficiency of the online sale, Landa suggested the system has another unique benefit.

“A beautiful thing about it is that non-Jews who don’t share our obligation are eager to help the Jewish community observe and practice its faith,” he said. “I make that point to Scott or whoever the buyer is. It’s not your faith, but you realize that this is important to us and you’re willing to help us.”