Sunday, May 15, 2011

mechiras chometz for supermarkets

I've been slowly reading over some more of Rav Kornmehl's teshuvos (link) and there is some interesting stuff that I hope to have a chance to do some further posts on. I feel a little like someone who lives next door to a house with a "George Washington slept here" sign on it -- in my case, someone who saw R' Yosef Engel, who shared torah with the Rogatchover, someone who clearly, from his writings, knew how to learn, lived just a few doors down from my present home. I can't help but be a little curious about what he had to say.

I'll save lomdus for a different time; for now I want to return to Rav Kornmehl's impression of his American ba'alei batim. As I wrote in the post on eiruvin, R' Kornmehl, coming from the world of pre-war Vienna, had a markedly negative impression of American ba'alei batim. These sentiments come across again in his teshuvah (siman 32) regarding a store owner who did a mechiras chometz but continued to do business selling chometz over Pesach. The Rabbi who posed the question apparently made reference to R' Moshe's psak (O.C. 149) that in such a case the mechira is still valid (I believe R' Soloveitchik disagreed). While not taking issue with Rav Moshe's psak directly, Rav Kornmehl qualified it in such a way as to render it irrelevant to the case at hand. Rav Kornmehl distinguished between ba'alei batim in pre-war Europe, whom he felt understand the severity of the issur of chometz and came to their Rav to do a mechira with the best intentions in mind. A shopkeeper who kept his store open was, in Rav Kornmehl's words, in a situation of "ones" -- it was not a deliberate flaunting of halacha, but a response to outside pressures, parnasa or otherwise. Not so in America. Here, writes Rav Kornmehl, the ba'alei baitm look at the mechira as a trick of some sort, a ritual done to satisfy observant customers who demand it, but inherently meaningless mumbo-jumbo. The willingness of a shopkeeper to keep his store open only proves the point. Rav Kornmehl goes so far as to suggest that a Rabbi who abets such a sale may even be guilty of lifnei iver!

Here's what's interesting: R' Moshe's teshuvah was not written for European ba'alei batim -- it was written in America in 1957! R' Moshe writes the chazakah that a person will not deliberately choose issur over heter (see Chulin 4b) applies equally in America as anywhere else because at the end of the day the shopkeeper has stepped forward to do a mechira. Why the mechira was done, whether the shopkeeper intends to open his store and sell chometz on Pesach, what he thinks of the whole ritual -- these are all devarim sheb'lev (this is spelled out more clearly in (I.M. 4:96)).

I think Rav Kornmehl would respond that devarim sheb'lev cannot undo a valid kinyan. However, the storekeeper who opens on Pesach to sell bread after doing a mechira demonstrates clearly that in his mind a sale never occurred -- there was no transaction to begin with.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous10:58 PM

    thus these 4:
    -farmer who keeps letter & spirit
    -farmer who keeps letter only
    (but disrespects its spirit)
    -shopkeeper who breaks the letter
    (despite respect for its spirit)
    -shopkeeper who violates letter &
    cheshbon of interior 2 vis-a-vis each other? {farmerB suffers "ones"
    (inner pressures-- "illicit" worry
    /doubt), while merchantA painfully socks away illicit revenue...