Rabbi gambles away congregation’s “hametz”
Passover ritual backfires as clergy succumbs to "March Madness"
A New Jersey synagogue is claiming its now former rabbi gambled away thousands of dollars in food entrusted to him by congregants as part of a pre-Passover ritual.
Lawyers for the congregation say Rabbi Richard Leytzan of Temple Beth Frankel in Belltower placed an unspecified bet on Gonzaga last Sunday in its game against Duke in the quarterfinals of the NCCA men’s basketball tournament. For collateral, Leytzan put up the value of the foodstuffs entrusted him by congregants in a ritual known as “selling the hametz.”
“Hametz” is food that cannot be consumed during the eight-day holiday of Passover, which begins Friday night. Rather than throw out such food – which includes items made with grain or leavening – Jewish law allows individuals to “sell” the items to a third party, usually via a rabbi. The sale is considered largely symbolic, and the rabbi, acting as the synagogue’s agent, “buys” the items back after the holiday.
According to synagogue officials, the rabbi convinced a bookmaker that the pasta, stale bread, and warm beer stored in cabinets throughout the community were worth thousands of dollars. Using this collateral, Leytzan allegedly placed a substantial bet on the Zags to defeat the Blue Devils and advance to the basketball tournament’s so-called “Final Four.”
Duke went on to win the game 66-52, on the strength of strong outside shooting by freshman guard Justise Winslow.
Calls to Leytzan’s office were not returned as of Wednesday; a woman who opened the door to a reporter at his house in Belltower declined to comment, saying only, “I told him Gonzaga couldn;t top Duke’s unique and youthful chemistry.”
The incident would not represent the first time the hametz-selling ritual has backfired. In 1972, a Jewish farmer in Bentonville, Arkansas “sold” his wheat field to a neighbor ahead of Passover. The neighbor reneged on the deal, in a case that eventually went to the United States District Court for the Eastern District. The farmer lost the case, and the plot of land has since become the corporate headquarters for Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.
The synagogue has not pressed charges. Marvin Ackerman-Zuckerman, the president of the congregation, said the “hametz” had no real value, and that he was seeking only an explanation from the rabbi, and the return of the robe he wears during Friday night services.
Said Ackerman-Zuckerman: “This was a sacred trust, and he violated it – and for what, a cockamammie bet that the feisty second seed would beat the more seasoned number one seed?”
“Cockamammie” is a Yiddish word meaning “crazy, fake, outrageous, ridiculous.”