update deskJewish & Israeli Holidays

Passover 2024

Arab Israeli buys state’s chametz for $150 billion

Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich authorized the chief rabbis to carry out the transaction.

Israel's Chief Rabbis David Lau (left) and Yitzhak Yosef (center) sell the state's chametz in Jerusalem ahead of Passover, April 21, 2024. Photo by Chaim Goldberg/Flash90.
Israel's Chief Rabbis David Lau (left) and Yitzhak Yosef (center) sell the state's chametz in Jerusalem ahead of Passover, April 21, 2024. Photo by Chaim Goldberg/Flash90.

At the instruction of Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, the chief rabbis of Israel sold all of the chametz (leavened foods) owned by the state to an Arab Israeli businessman in accordance with the laws of Passover, the Chief Rabbinate of Israel announced on Sunday.

Halachah, or Jewish religious law, forbids the eating or ownership of leavened products during the seven-day holiday, in keeping with the story of the Exodus from Egypt.

Passover starts at sundown on Monday.

The sale has “halachic and legal validity and allows the citizens of Israel to properly observe the commandments of Passover without the fear of chametz remaining in their possession,” the Chief Rabbinate said.

Hussein Jabar, 64, from the Arab town of Abu Ghosh west of Israel’s capital, paid a deposit of 20,000 shekels ($5,300).

After the holiday, he will be offered the possibility of completing the transaction, which has an estimated total value of $150 billion.

“The ceremony took place at 11 a.m. at the Chief Rabbinate of Israel in Jerusalem. It felt very dignified. It made me proud and it was moving,” Jabar told JNS on Sunday night after signing the agreement.

“I put together a team of experts in the food and catering business from Abu Ghosh. We are about 10 people, and we designed a plan to raise the money. Hopefully, this year, we will make it happen,” Jabar said.

Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich sells the state’s chametz in Jerusalem on April 21, 2024. Photo by Chaim Goldberg/Flash90.

‘Peace and only good news’

If Jabar and his partners fail to raise the total amount before the end of Passover on the night of April 30, the ownership will revert to the state.

Jabar took over the task some 28 years ago after the previous buyer, also from Abu Ghosh, was relieved of his duties when it was discovered his maternal grandmother may have been Jewish.

At Jerusalem’s Ramada Hotel, where he has worked for about 40 years, Jabar met with Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau, then-Ashkenazi chief rabbi of Israel, who suggested he take the job.

Jabar said on Sunday, “My family is really happy for me. They love it. By doing this, I feel that I am creating a connection between the Jews and the Arabs in Israel, bridging the gap between both communities.”

As Israel enters its seventh month of war in Gaza triggered by Hamas’s Oct. 7 massacre of some 1,200 people, Jabar expressed a wish for quieter times. “I hope we will soon have peace and only good news for everyone. I wish the people of Israel a kosher and happy Passover,” he told JNS.

As part of the ceremony, Smotrich authorized the chief rabbis, Rabbi David Lau and Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef, to carry out the transaction on behalf of the state.

“Since the holiday of Simchat Torah, when the terrible disaster happened to us, we have been praying for the success of the security forces,” said Yosef. “We need to continue to pray for our soldiers, who give their lives and fight on the northern and southern borders and wherever they are.”

Lau said, “Our neighbors want to destroy us and make us forget the joy, but the entire nation of Israel has stood up to fight for its home, for our essence as the Jewish people—we are not ready to give up on that.”

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