Bread For Sale – Tablet Magazine
As an ordained Anglican priest, Patrick Moriarty is not exactly what one would call a typical Jewish school principal. He’s used to the quizzical looks when he tells people he’s been headmaster since 2013 of the Jewish Community Plural High School in London, one of the largest Jewish schools in England, with more than 1 000 students.
“I’ve always lived in and around the Jewish community,” Moriarty said. “In the last school I taught, about 25 percent of the students were Jewish, and growing up [in London] about 30-40% of the kids in my school were Jewish.
Although he is involved in many Jewish activities through his work, his favorite comes every Passover, when he has a special role to play: near the holiday, when non-Jews are prohibited only to eat leavened products, but also to possess everything—the Jews sell their chametz (leavened products) to non-Jewish buyers for the duration of the festival.
“I love this wonderfully bizarre ritual,” Moriarty said with a chuckle. “When I came to JCoSS, I was the obvious person to buy the chametz.”
He doesn’t just buy a loaf of bread or a jar of mustard: every year he buys the entire £50million state-of-the-art Jewish secondary school, complete with all its associated sourdough products inside, for a few pounds. . Some years it’s bought for £1, or “whatever we have in our pockets”, Moriarty said. And when the holidays are over, he resells it for the same price.
It’s a deal that works well for him and for the school. “Patrick has his own strong faith and his own community, but he is our chametz buyer,” said Sara Levan, director of Jewish life at the JCoSS, which organizes the annual sale. “Every year he goes off to a corner with our school rabbinical consultant, Michael Pollack. It’s a gentlemen’s agreement, I would say. Michael writes the contract – it’s usually a few handwritten lines. I’m a broker in that I make sure the deal gets done.
In the Bible, the Jewish people are commanded to eat unleavened bread during Passover. For much of history, this meant that the Jewish people got rid of all their leavened products and owned no chametz during the eight-day holiday, including anything made with wheat, barley, oats, spelled or rye. However, as food storage improved, and especially in the late 18th century when the Jews entered the liquor trade, it became very expensive for them to get rid of all their sourdough products. .
To help businesses manage their inventory and avoid immense financial loss by throwing away chametzrabbinical scholars imagined the “sale of chametzritual that is used by millions of Jewish people around the world. This transfer of ownership allows Jews to meet the requirements of not owning chametz by selling it to a non-Jewish buyer, with the possibility of buying it back after Passover.
Moriarty assumes its role of buyer of all chametz products at his school seriously. “I think that’s why it works so well for me at JCoSS,” he said. “Religion and rituals are slightly absurd and deeply serious. Once you are in one religion, then you can understand the absurdity of another. For the community, it becomes deeply meaningful and profoundly meaningful. I say OK, I will join in your absurd and deeply meaningful ritual. That’s religion, absurdity on one side and depth on the other.
Moriarty won’t be the only one buying chametz This year. Several thousand transactions will take place in Jewish communities around the world.
In Melbourne, Australia, Andre Bonnici, who is Roman Catholic, is a beloved barber located in Ripponlea, the heart of the tight-knit ultra-Orthodox community. “My father was a barber in Ripponlea,” he said, “as was my grandfather.”
As a barber serving local Jews of various backgrounds, Bonnici is well versed in the “stand-up look” haircuts of many different sects, including leaving side locks unclipped, and he has performed many upsherinthe usual first haircut for Hasidic boys at the age of 3. Since 2016, he has also played an important role as a buyer of chametz of the nearby Shaarei Tefillah Synagogue.
A few years ago, Rabbi Arieh Berlin – the head of the synagogue and a regular Bonnici customer – walked into the barbershop with a special request. “Rabbi Berlin asked me if I would consider buying the chametz on behalf of his congregation,” Bonnici recalled. “He used to sell it to another rabbi, and then that rabbi would resell it, but that rabbi would go back overseas, and he wanted to know if I would consider buying it instead.”
The answer was an immediate yes.
“I’ve known Andre since I arrived in Melbourne” more than 20 years ago, Berlin said, “and he was always my barber. Because he was so knowledgeable about Jews and Jewish customs, he was more easy to ask him.
It’s easy to see why Berlin asked Bonnici: He’s a hugely popular figure among his mostly ultra-Orthodox clientele, who appreciate his sense of humor and laid-back nature.
But every year, Bonnici takes his chametz property a little further: while he owns chametz, he really owns it. “I always pick a client I know and do a ‘home visit’. I usually walk in and grab a bottle of liquor. Last year, one of them had a nice bottle of chocolate liquor,” he said, before adding with a laugh, “My wife loved that one.
“The first year I made a home visit,” he says, “I went to Rabbi Berlin. He invited his friends over for dinner. He let me in and told me to take what I wanted. I chose a bottle of Tasmanian whiskey. A nice person.
Recalling that visit, Berlin notes that his guests, who also get their hair cut at Bonnici’s barbershop, put the barber up to scratch: “They told him they were eating at my house. André said he came to get the scotch. I told him: it’s up to you. It’s in the garage.”
Berlin does not mind Bonnici making annual home visits and acknowledges that until the items are redeemed after Passover, Bonnici is indeed the rightful owner of these sourdough products. “I knew Andre would feel really comfortable coming into Jewish homes,” Berlin said. “I encouraged him. He did it to a few people.
The families of Shaarei Tefillah, who are also customers of the Bonnici Barbershop, know that these visits are all fun and that the liquor bottles are always returned when the chametz is resold after Passover is over (although slightly lighter than it was taken).
“My family has been here for 52 years,” Bonnici said. “We were repeatedly told that we were honorary Jews.”
At the other end of the world, at the Anshe Sholom B’nai Israel synagogue in Chicago, an annual chametz-a sales ritual also takes place. Rabbi David Wolkenfeld sells the chametz to Carol Ann Edwards-Nasser, a local realtor who is Presbyterian. It is a special relationship that has lasted for many years.
“I already knew Carol Anne because she was the real estate agent who helped us buy the apartment near the synagogue, and she has experience in complex sales. His business partner is also a member of our synagogue,” the rabbi said.
Edwards-Nasser knows that the sale of chametz requires additional details that are not part of other transactions that she facilitates in her daily work. “It’s a very elaborate sale,” she said. For weeks before Passover, the synagogue collects forms from the list of the community and people where they keep their chametz. And as the holiday approaches, Wolkenfeld gathers a stack of forms authorizing him to sell the community’s chametz.
Every year on the eve of the holiday, the community gathers to witness the sale of their sourdough products at Edwards-Nasser. “I pay for it,” she said. “When the congregation redeems the chametz, I have the right to get my money back. But I usually give it to the Torah fund.
The community is certainly grateful for all their help during Passover. “It’s a wonderful model of interfaith cooperation and Carol Anne helps us celebrate our holidays,” Wolkenfeld said.
Edwards-Nasser takes its obligations seriously and has a deep love and respect for the Jewish people.
“My father was a liberator during the Second World War. When he heard I was doing this, he cried. He was so proud of me,” she said. “Of all that I have accomplished in my life, this is what my father was most proud of: I was chosen by the congregation to help them.