Intro: What is the obligation of a Jew towards chametz housed within his property but belonging to a non-Jew? In the next two simanim, we will study two applications of this question, both of which are presented in the Gemara and Shulchan Aruch. In this siman (440) the application is ‘pikdonos’ (lit. deposits), i.e. chametz-dik goods deposited with the Jew (a ‘shomer’ / guardian) by its non-Jewish owner for safe-keeping. In the next siman (441), the application is ‘mashkonos’ (lit. collateral), i.e. chametz-dik goods given to the Jew by the non-Jew as collateral for a loan the Jew extended him. Before learning the specific halacha on these cases, let us get a basic background to the principles that govern them. They are based upon two pesukim from the Chumash and their interpretation by the Gemara in Pesachim 5b. Be aware that the Gemara understands these two pesukim to be contradictory until drawing a distinction which resolves the apparent contradiction.
Shmos 13:7 “Chametz shall not be seen to you and leaven shall not be seen to you in all your borders.” From here we infer that yours you may not see (i.e. keep in your possession), but you may see that of others (i.e. non-Jews)… Shmos 12:19 “For a seven-day period leaven shall not be found in your homes.” From here we derive that a Jew may not accept deposits from non-Jews.” Gemara Pesachim 5b3: Question: “But you said in the beginning: ‘… but you may see that of non-Jews.’ Why does the Beraisa now prohibit the chametz deposit of a non-Jew? See the apparent contradiction? Resolution: It is not difficult: This latter section of the Beraisa refers to where the Jew accepted (monetary) responsibility for the non-Jew’s chametz, whereas the first section refers to where the Jew did not accept responsibility.” [Translation adapted from Artscroll’s Schottenstein Edition of Talmud Bavli (Pesachim I pp. 5b1-3)]
To summarize: Where chametz owned by a non-Jew is sitting in the Jew’s property as a ‘pikadon’ (deposit for safekeeping), we have the following distinction: If the Jew accepted monetary responsibility for the chametz (i.e. he would be liable to pay for / replace the chametz were it to be lost or stolen or even damaged through negligence), he is considered to be part-owner of that chametz, to the extent that he would be in violation of BYBY (‘bal yeiraeh u’bal yimatze’ – owning chametz) were he to keep it in his possession! The Jewish ‘shomer’ would thus need to require the non-Jew to pick up his chametz before Pesach, with the stipulation that if he did not, it would be destroyed along with the Jew’s own chametz. (Note: The Mishnah Berura discusses whether the Jew has the authority to sell the ‘pikadon’ to a different non-Jew, along with the space in which it rests. He concludes that it may be done if necessary.) On the other hand, if the Jew accepted no monetary responsibility (i.e. for loss, theft or negligence), he is not considered to be an owner of that chametz in any way, and is therefore under no obligation to remove it from his house the entire Pesach! (Note: The Jew would still be required to safeguard his family members from mistakenly eating the chametz. To that end, he would be required to close it up in a room, or at least erect a firm barrier of at least ten tefachim - approx. 30 inches - as one does whenever he sells his own chametz to a non-Jew for Pesach.
Question: Suppose the Jew did not destroy the chametz-dik ‘pikadon’ (where he was obligated to), and it is now after Pesach. Is he is under prohibition against eating or deriving benefit from it, according to the law of “chametz she’avar alav haPesach” (chametz that went through Pesach in the possession of a Jew – see 448:1-2 More on Chametz She’avar Alav HaPesach)? Answer: That is a matter of dispute. At the very least, he may return the ‘pikadon’ to the non-Jewish owner.
It is important to realize, however, that while a ‘shomer’ who assumes monetary liability for the ‘pikadon’ becomes a part-owner as far as chametz is concerned, the real owner is still the owner as well. Therefore, were the opposite to be the case – i.e. a Jew deposited his chametz before Pesach with a non-Jewish ‘shomer’ – then even if the non-Jew assumed monetary responsibility, that does not absolve the Jew of his ownership, and he is still obligated to destroy that chametz (or sell it, as is customary), despite the fact that the chametz is physically in the possession of the non-Jew! Get it?
Question: I remember one year in my hometown of Silver Spring, MD, that on Yom Tov of Pesach, a national brand-name cereal company dropped off a sample package of their latest variety via the US Postal service into every mail box and mail slot in the neighborhood. What should one do in that situation? Is he in violation of BYBY by having the cereal in his house?
(Think about this before reading on…)
Answer: You can be sure that the Rav discussed this question in shul the following day! Based upon the sources in our current lesson, he ruled that since the non-Jew deposited the cereal in our homes without our consent or assumption of liability, then, as long as we do not knowingly decide to acquire the chametz, it is not ours at all, and we have no violation of BYBY. We would still be obligated to destroy it after Yom Tov. It would not be sufficient to lock it away, because that would indicate that we are acquiring it as a gift from the company. On Yom Tov itself, we should not handle it because it is muktzah; rather we should simply turn a heavy bowl over the chametz to ensure that no one touches it and eats it.
A visiting non-Jew
We also learn from this siman that if a non-Jew enters a Jew’s home carrying his own chametz, the Jew is under no obligation to ask the non-Jew to leave with his chametz or even to leave the chametz outside. In fact, the Jew may even invite the non-Jew to enter his home and eat the chametz right at his table (!), provided that the Jew does not eat together with the non-Jew at the table (even on separate place mats), and that he cleans up well after the chametz is removed.