Ishur Mechirat Chametz – Now What?

Monday, April 27, 2009 – 3 Iyar 5769

The last time I wrote a negative article regarding the kashrus situation in Israel a small number of readers were offended, accusing me of painting Eretz Yisrael in a bad light. Some even removed themselves from the mailing list, and I for one respect their integrity and determination – unwilling to see anyone besmirch Eretz Yisrael. 
While I understood their point and admire their love of the Land and the need to defend our holy inheritance, I feel an obligation to tell it as I see it, not for purposes of slander, but to educate you, the reader, to the realities of Israel’s kosher scene. I view this as defending Eretz Yisrael too, seeking to eliminate the pitfalls that may compromise the kashrus standards of consumers, residents and visitors alike.

ishur-mechirat-chametz

Ishur Mechirat Chametz - Sale of Chametz Certificate

Since Pessach I have busied myself walking around town making an extra effort to see if stores have certificates attesting to their sale of chametz, for if not, the chametz items remaining from before Pesach are banned forever.
As I reported in earlier bulletins there are numerous stores with expired Jerusalem Rabbinate kashrus certificates. It appears the mashgichim (rabbinical supervisors) have not managed to update the stores. I would like to think this is the case, nothing more sinister.
Regarding this issue, I spent a good part of today on the phone with numerous authorities, officials in the Jerusalem Religious Council. Finally, I spoke with HaRav Eliyahu Schlesinger Shlita, the Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem’s Gilo neighborhood but more interestingly for our report, the posek (rabbinical authority) of the Jerusalem Religious Council, the rabbi responsible for the final halachic (Jewish Law) decisions.
I asked Rabbi Schlesinger regarding stores with outdated kashrut certificates, adding I am aware that in all likelihood, the rabbi mashgiach failed to deliver the current one. All the old ones expired before Pessach to avoid confusion and stores that were kosher for Pessach received a special Pessach certificate. Rabbi Schlesinger stated unequivocally that one may not buy/eat in these stores. He stated for whatever the reason, a store lacking a valid kashrut certificate has no supervision as far as the consumer is concerned.
Back to my calls and conversations today, I began my quest innocently, without any preconceptions regarding the handling of this ever-so-important matter. I placed calls to numerous contacts in the religious council’s kashrus division, some who know me and others who do not, and was finally sent to the doorstep of Rav David Malka, who is the man who handled the chametz sales. This was confirmed later in the day by Rav Schlesinger too. Anyway, Rav Malka explained he cannot check on any individual store regarding the sale of chametz, explaining there is no computer listing or database. This was later confirmed by Rav Schlesinger, who added the rabbanim are extremely busy before Pessach and R’ Malka does sign up the stores via the mashgiach but there is no system in place to permit checking after the fact.
I asked Rav Malka if one can eat in a store lacking a ishur mechirat chametz, which attests to the fact the chametz items were sold before Pessach in accordance to halacha. He told me that most likely a store without a certificate did indeed sell the chametz but he cannot say so with absolute certainty and he cannot assume responsibility for my decision to eat in any such restaurant or make a purchase in such a store. His position was echoed by Rav Schlesinger, who assured me in all likelihood the chametz was sold but he too cannot accept such responsibility. When I continued pushing for a response, Rav Schlesinger basically stated if I wish to be safe, I should avoid such a store.
There is a bit more but the matter is yet incomplete. Should I receive the information in my ongoing quest, I will release another report. I do not want to delay this however so I am sending it out with these two points covered.
In brief, any store with an out-of-date Jerusalem Religious Council certificate should be avoided, as should a store lacking a certificate attesting to the sale of chametz, at least if you wish to take the extra step to be careful.
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Respectfully,
Yechiel Spira
Jerusalem Kosher News – jerusalemkn@gmail.com
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11 Comments

  • Eliyahu Skoczylas
    April 27, 2009 - 20:12 | Permalink

    I understand that a restaurant which didn’t sell their chametz could be problematic to eat at. But especially as pertains to, for example a butcher shop – are we meant to understand that the Rav has poskened that the meat that they are selling is unfit if they didn’t sell their chametz? What if they had no chametz to sell – were they meant to fictitiously sell something they don’t possess (or small quantities of which they got rid of before Pesach,) just in order to get an ishur that they “sold” it?

  • Yechiel
    April 27, 2009 - 20:56 | Permalink

    To the best of my understanding, stores do sell their chametz since even a butcher store contains items that might include chametz, as is the case with some of deli, prepared burgers and kebabs, and other items. Agreed it is far less problematic than a restaurant, grocery store or the like.

  • Sharon
    April 28, 2009 - 10:48 | Permalink

    Kol hakavod to the apparently objective reporting of such important information. I was also struck by your sensitivity in judging l’kaf zechut shop keepers who haven’t posted signs. What saddens me is that those in charge refuse to take responsibility – if someone sold their chametz let them inform their consumers and if they didn’t let it be clear by the lack of a sign. What seems to me, the uneducated consumer, to be the case is that the mashgichim (who do get paid unlike yourself) are not doing their jobs or being held accountable by their employer, the rabbinical certifying agencies. This is potentially hurting a shop’s parnasa. Isn’t that also against halacha?

  • Phyllis Koenigsberg
    April 28, 2009 - 12:56 | Permalink

    I want to tell you how much I appreciate your website, e mail messages and all the footwork you are doing to inform all of us of the many details we as kosher consumers have been missing here up to now. Thank you so much for all your efforts.

    Phyllis Koenigsberg

    Jerusalem

    __________ Information

  • Karen Eisenberg
    April 28, 2009 - 15:38 | Permalink

    It is a chronic problem that stores/restaurants do not get updated certificates for the remainder of the month of Nissan after Pesach. This happens every single year. While the rabbanut may have to take the position that it cannot guarantee the kashrut of any of these establishments, it does NOT mean that they are treif (unless the vast majority of places become non-kosher after Pesach). And the rabbanut should own up to the fact that their mashgichim are not getting the certificates delivered, rather than besmirching the reputations of the stores. The consumer has the choice to either trust a place that has had reliable supervision for a long period of time, assuming that it is a bureaucratic issue and not a kashrut issue, or just not buy for the last few weeks of Nissan — tough to do especially after Pesach.

  • Perry Zamek
    April 28, 2009 - 17:00 | Permalink

    I’m just wondering whether there is any requirement to *display* the Ishur Mechirat Chametz – and if so, for how long (I have seen places that have it displayed from one Pesach to the next). One has to be very careful not to assume that the non-display of an ishur means that it is absent.

  • Milhouse
    April 28, 2009 - 17:29 | Permalink

    You are going on as if Chametz She’avar Alav Hapesach is some sort of inherent issur that you don’t want to put in your mouth, and so even though “in all likelihood the chametz was sold” you don’t want to take a chance. This is sheer amharatzut. CSAhP is a kenas; someone who transgressed on Bal Yera’eh and Bal Yimatze is punished by rendering his illegally-held chametz useless. No honest Jew will buy it from him, so next year he’ll know to dispose of it properly before Pesach. It’s a rabbinically-decreed boycott.

    Now you approach a store without a certificate, but which you know most probably did sell its chametz; what grounds do you have to boycott the owner? For what are you punishing him? You acknowledge that most likely he did the right thing, even though nobody gave him a piece of paper to prove it. Is it right to do this to him, just on the off-chance that he is a transgresser? Do you also boycott people because they might be thieves or murderers? If you are in doubt, why not ask the owner whether the chametz was sold before Pesach, and take his word for it, since you have no real reason to suspect him of lying?

  • avraham rosenthal
    April 28, 2009 - 23:14 | Permalink

    Concerning your article:

    You are absolutely correct. These reports are very important. This is 100% leto’elet, so there is no lashon hara involved. It is ridiculous to “stick one’s head in the sand” just for the sake of not “besmirching Eretz Yisroel”.

    Concerning comments of Milhouse:

    Chometz she’avar alav et haPesach is more than a “rabbinically-decreed boycott.” It is asur be’hana’ah miderabbanan. No one is allowed to eat it.

    It is not so simple to ask the owner and take his word for it. He has a vested interest in giving you an answer that you wish to hear. If he truely sold his chametz, he should have a certificate.

  • Eliyahu Skoczylas
    April 30, 2009 - 13:19 | Permalink

    avraham rosenthal wrote:
    | It is not so simple to ask the owner and take his word for it. He has a
    | vested interest in giving you an answer that you wish to hear.

    That’s the question of whether he is truly yirath shamayim – God fearing – or not. If you can’t trust him on that, why are you trusting him on other kashrus questions? And if you want to ONLY trust a mashgiach, then you should only be buying from a shop with a mashgiach tzamud – one permanantly present. In that case, ask the mashgiach, and take HIS word for it.

    | If he truely sold his chametz, he should have a certificate.

    My Rav recommends that we do not “sell” our chametz through the Rabbanut, and so I and fellow members of the kehillah boxed up all our chametz, sealed it, took it to a goy’s home, and let him hand us cash for those boxes. We “sold” our whiskeys and pastas and so on in as real a sale as you can get – shtar kesef over l’socher – cash money changing hands – and not just through a chain of shlichim making a kinyan – rebbeim waving pencils. I (and my Rav) is confident that we did the halachically correct thing, and yet no one gave us an “ishur mechirat chametz.” (And if we had a letter from this goy, would anyone have accepted it as a halachic document, anyway?)

    Similarly, I know a butcher who simply sells out all of his chametz before Pesach. I don’t know if he even bothered getting an ishur, since his customers know that after Purim the shelves of spices and seasonings were already getting emptied out, and after chag he still didn’t have until new supplies came in. I trust his word because I see the actions in proof, even though I wasn’t there over yom tov. Whether or not he has an ishur is meaningless in such a case, AFAIC.

  • Avrohom
    May 6, 2009 - 22:20 | Permalink

    Both sides are wrong! On the one hand a rabbinical authority which cannot keep track of who sold their chometz is not running their hashgocho service properly. On the other hand an expired certificate and no letter of mechiras chometz displayed do not make a place treif. If you are patronizing a business you know and trust don’t run away just because there is no certificate, unless of course you take along a certificate to prove you are Jewish every time you may need to be counted for a minyan.

  • Miriam
    May 7, 2009 - 08:53 | Permalink

    Great report. However, what is Rav Schlesinger’s phone number to call when one sees a problem with Hashgacha in the field, what is the councils email address or phone number.
    Please make your location, or access to it, more visible.
    Hatzlacha Rabba!

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