Israel is to sell all of its leavened bread, as well as cakes, biscuits, noodles, and even beer to an Arab, but the Jewish state will not go hungry, nor would the food be delivered to Israeli-blockaded Gaza; the sale is just a religious trick to get around the rules of Torah.
For the Passover Feast, the Jewish state makes the sale because, during the Passover, Jews may not possess any food containing fermented grains.
So, for about 20 years, the state of Israel has been temporarily selling to Hussein Jabar its prohibited food items, in an annual ritual.
In supermarkets, shelves containing such foods are usually covered up. Private households may freely decide what they put on their table.
In the Feast of the Passover, Jews worldwide celebrate the departure of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. During the week of Passover, the Torah forbids consuming “chametz” – any food items that contain grains which have fermented. The possession of chametz is also prohibited.
Rabbi Jeffrey Woolf of Bar-Ilan University points out that the sale of chametz to Jabar has high symbolic value. “But it is really so, that under Jewish and civil law, it is the non-Jew who possesses chametz.”
Each year, the 53-year-old Palestinian citizen of Israel assumes an important task for the Israeli state: During the period of the Feast of the Passover, he symbolically purchases all leavened bread, as well as cakes, biscuits, noodles and even beer – all on behalf of the Jewish religion.
“If I can help them, then why not?” says Jabar, who is from the village of Abu Gosh, near Jerusalem. “For 10 days, I become a millionaire,” adds the Muslim believer with a laugh.
Jabar is clearly pleased by the interest being shown him. Behind the powerfully built man wearing a dark suit, there are pictures on the wall showing him together with previous Israeli prime ministers Yitzhak Rabin and Ehud Olmert, as well as with the current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Sitting in his office in a hotel in Jerusalem, Jabar explains how, each year, he pays around $5,600 to Israel’s highest Jewish authority, the Chief Rabbinate. In a ceremonial act, both parties sign an agreement. This year’s ceremony is set to take place on March 29, with Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon and Israel’s two chief rabbis.
The money is a down payment for goods which, by the latest estimates, are valued at more than $240m, Jabar says. For his money, he receives a list of all the pertinent food items, be they from the army, hospitals or schools. He is also given all the necessary keys to the premises involved.
“I can go to every place and take something away,” he says, while stressing that he only checks the food items. “When newspapers write that the state is selling me goods, I get calls from people who want to sell me this or that.” Jabar says he got the job because he knew the chief rabbi at the time through his work in the hotel.
Up until the Middle Ages, Jews would simply consume, give away or throw away their chametz before Passover. But in the late Middle Ages, Jews began brewing beer and became tavern keepers – so they could no longer simply throw away their chametz stores. “Under these circumstances, the rabbis of Eastern and Central Europe came up with the idea of selling chametz,” Woolf said. “We are speaking here of a legal loophole.” The non-Jew temporarily purchases the chametz, and then later on – after Passover – sells it back again.
Today, the Israeli state, as well as factories, restaurants and hotels accord the Chief Rabbinate the right to sell their chametz to Jabar in their name. “He is given 10 days’ time to conclude the purchase,” says Rabbi Elieser Simcha Weiss of the Chief Rabbinate, about the previously agreed-on procedure. “If he does not pay the remainder by the end of Passover, then the deal is void.” When that happens, Jabar gets his down payment back – and the chametz items are returned to their original owners.
Jabar says his Arab neighbours have no problem with this service he performs for the Israeli state. “If we can live together, then we also ought to,” he says.