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Taking Stock of Chometz Investments

Rabbi Yitzchok Tzvi Ushinsky

It’s Erev Pesach, and all the chometz is out of your possession. Or is it? What about your financial holdings in companies that deal in chometz? Does one violate the prohibition of bal yimatzei by being a partner or partial owner of such a company?

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Does the ownership of stocks or trust funds make one liable of transgressing bal yimatzei (chometz should not be found in your possession) if that company deals in or owns chometz on Pesach? In theory, since a stockholder shares in both the profits and the losses of the company, he is considered to have accepted responsibility for his shares. But the poskim debate whether that responsibility renders him enough of a partner or partial owner to be considered in violation of bal yimatzei.

In order to resolve this question, we must understand the distinction between a person who owns chometz that is in the possession of others and a person who accepts responsibility for chometz that belongs to someone else. A person who owns chometz is considered to be in violation of bal yimatzei even when the chometz is not in his possession, simply because he owns the chometz item itself (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 440:4).

But what if a person merely accepts responsibility over someone else’s chometz?

The Gemara (Pesachim 5b) questions a seeming contradiction in a baraisa, which begins by stating that it is permissible to have chometz belonging to other people in one’s possession, but then goes on to state that it is prohibited to accept deposits of chometz from non-Jews. The Gemara resolves the contradiction by positing that it is prohibited to have someone else’s chometz only when one accepts responsibility for it. The Gemara then cites an incident in which Rava told the residents of Mechuza to remove chometz belonging to the soldiers stationed in their town from their possession. Since they would have been liable to pay for the chometz if it were lost or stolen, they were considered “owners” of the chometz with respect to this bal yimatzei. It seems, then, that the Gemara establishes a general principle that a person who accepts responsibility for chometz becomes its “owner” vis-à-vis the prohibition of bal yimatzei.

 

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