Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Chametz, including a box of Cheerios and a flying piece of bread, is burned in the fire at the Young Israel of Riverdale on Friday, April 19. (Credit: Robert Kalfus)

Dr. Marty Katzenstein adds fuel to the fire to burn the chametz. (Credit: Robert Kalfus)

Dr. Marty Katzenstein adds fuel to the fire to burn the chametz. (Credit: Robert Kalfus)

(l-r) Rabbi Yitzhak Genack of the Riverdale Jewish Center shakes hands with John Brown, sealing the deal selling his congregants’ chametz, as children watch and learn. (Credit: Robert Kalfus)

After carefully searching for chametz the evening prior to Pesach, observant Jews are obligated to destroy any chametz in their possession on the morning before Pesach begins, usually accomplished by burning it in small fires at their local synagogue. Additionally, Jews are required to not derive any benefit from any chametz that might inadvertently remain in their possession, and so in a detailed contract, sell all rights to their chametz.

For decades, more than a hundred rabbis representing congregations from Connecticut, New Jersey, New York and even Pennsylvania have come to the Young Israel of Riverdale, congregating on the morning before Pesach in a small room on the Henry Hudson Parkway to sell their members’ chametz, while outside a fire burns the chametz.

Presiding over dozens of rabbinic questions and answers recently, was Rabbi Mordechai Willig, rabbi of the Young Israel of Riverdale, who carefully read aloud the halachic contract selling chametz—leavened food products—before a room filled with dozens of other rabbis, before shaking hands sealing the deal he makes with John Brown, a non-Jewish man who annually purchases the chametz.

Rabbis presented their congregants’ unique situations and questions, and the halachic contracts were amended with consent and agreement of the assembled rabbis, ending before the required cutoff time forbidding ownership of chametz.

Brown brought silver quarters to effect the purchase of the more than 300 contracts selling ownership of their chametz received by Rabbi Willig from members of his synagogue and others who respect his Torah knowledge and adherence to halachic standards. The deals were also sealed with the acquisition of a “valuable object”—a pen knife—and sealed with a handshake.

By Robert Kalfus



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