By Rabbi Gavriel Price, OU Kosher Rabbinic Coordinator
A common method for relinquishing ownership of chometz before Pesach is to sell it, typically through an agent, to a gentile. The chometz remains in the house, in a closed-off area that has been rented to its new owner. After Pesach the agent repurchases the chometz on your behalf, at which time the rental period ends.
This option is time-honored and halachically sanctioned, but it is essentially a legal device that some people are uncomfortable employing for food that is obviously chometz and prohibited on a Biblical level, such as bread, pasta and grain-based cereals. Instead, this chometz is eaten before Pesach, burned, or otherwise destroyed.
If, however, the food is not blatantly chametz, that is, if the product is 1) safek chametz (it may or may not be chametz at all), or 2) ta’aruvot chametz (if the chametz is only a fraction of the product) and prohibited only on a rabbinic level but Biblically permitted, the food is included in the sale.
In keeping with this stringent position, Rabbi Yoseph B. Soloveitchik zt”l advised against selling foods that are obviously chometz, but permitted the sale of ta’aruvot chametz, i.e. products that contain a minority portion of chometz blended into the rest of the product. Licorice, for example, which contains flour, can be included in a sale. Cookies ‘N’ Cream ice cream, on the other hand, where the cookies are distinguishable from the ice cream (and therefore not a real mixture), should not be included in the sale.
Another, stricter position, rules out selling any product that contains chametz unless there is less than a kezayis of chometz in the entire container (a kezayis is equivalent to the volume of a large olive). A full package of licorice would not be included in the sale, according to this approach.
Many people who avoid selling chometz products such as cookies or bread nonetheless have a family custom to include their whiskey in the sale (this is based on a lenient opinion that through the conversion of starch to alcohol the chometz status falls away).