Shabbat Parashat Kedoshim| 5771
Ask the Rabbi: Chametz of a Mixed-married Couple after Pesach
Question: I am a yeshiva student who will be home after Pesach. My father is not Jewish, and my mother does not keep kosher for Pesach. Do I have a problem with packaged chametz that will be around the house, as it was owned by my non-Jewish father, or should I assume that my mother owns (some of) the chametz?
Answer: Chametz that is owned by a Jew over Pesach is forbidden for him or any other Jew to eat or benefit from (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 448:3), but not chametz that is owned by a non-Jew. According to classic halacha, in a marriage, the husband receives his wife’s salaries, owns "family property," and controls the property his wife brought into the marriage while they remain married. However, this is not an intrinsic law but an arrangement the Rabbis instituted, if the wife agrees, in return for the husband’s obligation of full support and other matters (Ketubot 47b). Your parents are not halachically married. Furthermore, the Rabbis did not get involved in the financial arrangements in non-Jewish marriages. Thus ownership of property of a non-Jewish or intermarried depends couple depends on individual agreement, societal norms, and/or secular law. It is safe to assume that when a 21st century, Western-society spouse buys crackers in the supermarket from joint finances, they are jointly owned.
Therefore, at first glance, your mother has a share in the chametz, and it will be forbidden to you, while your father’s will not. How is one to know whose share he is eating from? There is a concept called bereira, which, among whose applications and when it applies, is that when joint owners of property divide it amongst themselves, we say that the part that each person received was his all along. We rule that one can apply bereira regarding rabbinic, not Torah, law (Beitza 38a). Although chametz is a Torah law, the prohibition after Pesach is a k’nas (rabbinic injunction) against those who were lax regarding the prohibition of possessing chametz on Pesach (see Beit Yosef, OC 448; Mishna Berura 448:2). Thus, if a system could be arranged so that your father would take chametz articles for himself and then give to you, the problem would be solved. (The Sha’agat Aryeh (90) argues that even the Jew’s part should be permitted because he may have gotten the non-Jew’s part, but even if we accept that, there should still have to be a division among the food and one could not take from everything (see ibid. 91 and Mekor Chayim 448:1)). However, the guidelines of activating bereira are difficult enough to explain to them for us not to recommend it. If your parents are willing to cooperate with your halachic lifestyle, it makes more sense for your mother to appoint you an agent to sell her (part in the) chametz and ask her not to buy on Pesach at least chametz that will last until after Pesach (it is easy to figure out when bread was bought). As far as the possibility of mix up, one can be quite lenient, at least when there is need, regarding assumptions of which food was obtained when (see Chulin 4b).
There are lenient opinions regarding chametz possessed by a totally irreligious Jew. The Taz (448:2) and Mishna Berura (448:11) say that if a Jew sold chametz to a non-religious Jew, the latter can sell it after Pesach to a non-Jew and give the money to the Jew instead of having him incur a great loss. They do not allow a Jew to eat the actual chametz. There is a fringe opinion that the injunction to discourage people from possessing chametz does not apply to those who disregard their halachic responsibilities as Jews (see She’ilat David (Karlin), OC 5). In your case, there is one further point for leniency [which would not be appropriate to discuss publicly]. We imagine that in order to eat in the house, you anyway must have different utensils and food. If so, buying packaged chametz after Pesach from appropriate sources would seem not to change things so much. However, if there is a strong need for leniency, please contact us again so we can discuss your specific needs and options.
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