Why Some Jewish People ‘Sell’ Their Pets for Passover
- Jewish people observing Passover abstain from eating leavened items such as bread, cereal and pasta.
- Some take this further and temporarily sell their pets that eat leavened grains.
- The practice of selling chametz originated in the 17th century and has recently become quite common.
- Many people opt to change their pets’ diets to one that is certified kosher for Passover, board their pet for the week or feed them a raw, grain-free diet.
- Star-K provides a list of pet foods that are grain-free, kosher for Passover, as well as advice on how to slowly transition pets to the new diet.
Abstaining from leavened items like bread, cereal and pasta is a yearly tradition for Jewish people observing Passover, but some holiday observers it a step further and temporarily sell their pets that eat leavened grains.
Passover is a Jewish holiday celebrating the freeing of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt and begins on Wednesday evening. For a week, observers of the holiday give up eating leaven, or chametz, and strict observers don’t even keep it in the house. For some, this means changing their pets’ food to fare that has been certified kosher for Passover, but others temporarily sell their pets to a non-Jewish person, then buy them back at the end of the holiday.
“The numbers of pets being sold with the chametz is most definitely rising, that’s what we’re seeing with the chametz sales at Chabad.org,” Rabbi Motti Seligson told Newsweek.
Corgi Charlie Chan wore his yarmulke as the dog and owner Jolyn Yamada, of Newport Beach, California, took in the menorah-lighting ceremony at Fashion Island in Newport Beach on December 12, 2017. Some observers of Passover, which begins Wednesday evening, temporarily sell their pets that eat leavened grains.
Kevin Sullivan/Digital First Media/Orange County Register/Getty
The handling of chametz during Passover is hotly debated. Israeli Minister of Environmental Protection Idit Silman defected from her party last year after criticizing the lifting of a ban on chametz in the hospital, a move that cost Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu his coalition. With Netanyahu back in power, the Knesset recently passed a law prohibiting chametz from being brought into the hospital during Passover, but it’s being challenged in court.
In the 17th century, Jews began the practice of selling the leavened items to a non-Jewish individual in accordance with Jewish law. After Passover ended, the Jew would then buy back the leavened products. Chabad.org, flagship website of the Chabad-Lubavitch Hasidic, has offered online forms for Jews celebrating Passover to authorize a rabbi to sell their chametz to a non-Jew on their behalf. Chabad expects more than 100,000 people to participate in the selling of chametz this year.
Seligson explained that people only need to sell their pets if their pet food is chametz. In the case the pet needs to be sold, owners will arrange for a non-Jewish person to feed their pet during Passover.
Why Do People Sell Their Pets?
Lawrence H. Schiffman, professor of Judaic studies at New York University, told Newsweek that the selling of chametz originated when Jews in certain businesses, such as bakeries, wanted to adhere to Passover rules.
Dog toys at a benefit event are pictured in Beverly Hills, California.
“It’s normal for Jews who are observing strictly to take all the leaven they still own and sell the leaven, often through synagogues to a non-Jew such that the non-Jew becomes the legal owner,” Schiffman said.
What started as a practice for businesses quickly spread to personal use, such as one’s food items, their prized alcohol collection, or, in some cases, their pets. This led to partnerships between rabbis and non-Jews, some lasting for years.
For decades, the late John Brown was the non-Jew with whom New York City rabbis orchestrated chametz sales deals. From 1977 to 2019, Brown would meet rabbis at the Young Israel of Riverdale at 10 a.m. before Passover, the last time Jews are allowed to have chametz, according to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA). Over the years, he also took ownership of people’s pets because their owners were not allowed to feed them during Passover.
“A number of years ago, we started saying to Mr. Brown, you’re going to own a certain number of dogs, a certain number of cats,” Rabbi Shmuel Hain of Young Israel Ohab Zedek of North Riverdale/Yonkers, told JTA. “[He] had good humor when it came to some of the more silly, some of the lower-stakes kinds of issues.”
How Common Is It to Sell Your Pet?
Seligson told Newsweek it’s much more common for people to change their pets’ diet rather than sell their pet during Passover.
The New York Post reported on several pet owners who feed their pets what they eat during Passover.
Rebecca Singer Walker told the Post that her Yorkie Miles eats what she eats.
“I’m going to be cooking beef or chicken or fish,” Walker said.
Men dine with a dog in Tel Aviv, Israel.
Star-K, a kosher certification agency, educates Jews by publishing a list of pet foods that owners can feed their pets during Passover. The foods are free from wheat and rice, making them kosher for the holiday, but some pet owners begin the process of introducing their pet to the food months before Passover to give their pet a chance to adjust to the dietary change.
A recent list published by Star-K included grain-free food from brands such as Blue, Purina, Kirkland and Wellness Core for dogs and cats. The list suggested millet, sorghum, various nuts and seeds or pure alfalfa pellets for birds. The list also included suggestions for fish, gerbils and reptiles.
Others opt to board their pet for the week, according to the Post article, or instead of buying new pet food only to use it for a week, they opt to feed pets such as cats and dogs a raw-food diet, such as one consisting of beef, fish or chicken, during Passover.
If owners are changing their pets’ food, Star-K urged them to slowly wean their pet off their regular diet. The website suggested mixing the regular diet with the new diet for one to two weeks before completely switching to the Passover-friendly diet.