Meet Hussein, the man who owns all of the chametz in Israel

During Passover, the Arab Israeli hotel worker is the nominal owner of food and alcohol worth billions of shekels


“Everything is mine. Even chametz on planes and cargo heading towards Israel,” Hussein Jabar told the JC ahead of Pesach.

Every year, Jabar, an Arab Israeli, becomes the lawful owner of all of Israel’s chametz – foods with leavening agents that Jews are prohibited from eating during the festival.

The custom of selling chametz to a non-Jew means it need not be destroyed during the chag.

Jabar, 64, has worked at Jerusalem’s Ramada Hotel since the 1980s, where he is in charge of managing food and beverages. There, he first met Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau, who served as the Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Israel from 1993 to 2003.

Jabar wasn’t the first to be solicited by the state’s top rabbis; his predecessor, Ahmed Moghrabi was approached before him. “His grandmother was Jewish, I believe. The rabbi considered it to be problematic and began looking for someone else. I agreed to do it. If I could help them then why wouldn’t I?” said Jabar, who lives with his wife and four children in the village of Abu Ghosh near Jerusalem.

On the eve of Passover, Jabar convenes with Israeli leaders, including Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi David Lau and Sephardi Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef, as well as Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich and others who serve as witnesses.

Jabar signs a contract to acquire all of the Jewish state’s chametz for a deposit of 20,000 NIS (4,250 GBP). The contract estimates the value of the products at 120 billion GBP and gives Jabar until the end of Passover, eight days later, to come up with the remaining funds to finalise the transaction.

“Every year, I really try to make it happen. It’s a really good deal and my intention is to close it, but it’s a lot of money,” said Jabar.

“Legally, I can go to sites like bakeries, hotels, factories and ask to check [the chametz] I bought. I technically own it,” he added.

When Passover ends, the deal is voided and Jabar recovers his deposit. The practise of selling chametz to a non-Jew for Pesach developed in Europe, to spare Jewish businesses which use leavened grains, such as distilleries from having to destroy their entire stock. In the UK though sales are organised by individuals, or by synagogues – it’s not a national arangement. 

This year the festival is taking place against the background of the October 7 and the ensuing war with Hamas in Gaza. Despite the war, Jabar said he never considered giving up his special role.

“It’s been 28 years, and I’m very happy to do it. I feel that I’m helping. It also sends a message of unity between Israeli Arabs and Jews throughout the country,” Jabar said.

“To me, everything is the same. My vision hasn’t changed. I still hope that we’ll soon have peace and be able to live side by side.”

In addition to chametz, Jabar also purchases agricultural lands from Israeli Jews every seven years during the sabbatical year ‘shmita’. The Torah permits Jews to cultivate lands for six years but during the following year, no crops can be grown.

In order to maintain production levels and avoid waste, lands are “sold” to Jabar so that they may then be worked.

“This allows farmers to go on as usual, but the land must be under someone else’s name. That’s why we decided to combine it with the same process as Passover,” said Jabar.

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