Why this faithful Latter-day Saint drives six hours to buy liquor he will never drink

He will never see or taste the Oreos and half-eaten boxes of Cheerios he buys. He purchases them anyway to help a rabbi friend honor his faith.

For the second year in a row, lawyer Nathan Oman drove roughly six hours each way to buy a whole lot of liquor that he, as a practicing Latter-day Saint, will never drink.

And half-eaten loaves of sandwich bread. And opened boxes of cereal. And what he estimates are probably hundreds of pounds of other leaven-containing foods — they are all his for the next roughly two weeks.

(Nathan Oman) Itamar Rosensweig, left, Chaim Saiman and Nathan Oman present the contract used to transfer the title of Jewish families' leavened goods and the cupboards where they're stored to Oman, a Latter-day Saint, during Passover.

He does this in preparation for Passover, a holiday he does not celebrate. And that’s precisely the point.

According to Jewish law, no amount of yeast, sourdough or baking powder — leaven — is allowed in one’s home during the week of Passover, which began Monday evening, as per the biblical Book of Exodus. Across the globe, the days leading up to the holiday are marked by furious cleaning and bonfires of leavened products for the observant.

But what if you have a yeasty product — say, a really nice liquor collection — you’d prefer not to set aflame?

Jewish law has a plan for that. Rather than burn it, one can sell it to a friendly “gentile” willing to take legal ownership over it for the duration of the holiday.

Oman’s Orthodox Jewish friend didn’t have to ask him twice.

“I was fascinated,” he wrote in a story published by Wayfare magazine, “by the idea of contracting around divine law.”

Twice now, Oman, a law professor at William & Mary, has made the six-hour drive from his home in Virginia to sit down with Rabbi Itamar Rosensweig outside Philadelphia and sign a contract written almost entirely in Hebrew. In exchange for the goods, Oman provides 200 silver dollar coins (gifted to him by the rabbi) and, for reasons having to do with arguments over Jewish law, a handkerchief.

Titles to tequila and Oreos are not all he is (temporarily) buying. Oman also purchases, for the briefest of periods, the locations within the residences where those items are housed.

“I have leases on little cupboards and closets,” he explained Monday in an interview, “all over suburban Philadelphia.”

That’s not all. Say the owner of a vacation home doesn’t want to bother with a pre-Passover cleaning. Oman can help with that, too, taking short-term ownership over a beachfront apartment.

(Nathan Oman) Just one of the liquor and condiment collections Nathan Oman, a Latter-day Saint, inherited from Jewish families during Passover.

“I won’t be able to get down to Florida by May 1,” he said. “But it’s nice to know that, at least in theory, I have legal rights to a boat down there.”

There are layers as to why Oman makes the trips to Philly. For one, the self-described “law/religion contract geek” gets a major kick out of it.

“To me, going up and chewing over the contract language with the rabbi,” he said, “is a lot of fun.”

For another, he sees it as kindness to a longtime friend and his friend’s faith.

“I’m very sympathetic to this religious community,” he said. “They want to live according to their religious beliefs and their religious law, and I think that’s an inherently valuable and dignified project.”

Oman, a devout member of the Utah-based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, isn’t naive. He knows his interest in religion is out of step with a growing number of his fellow Americans. This apathy, more than any other factor, he believes, threatens the religious fabric in much of the modern world.

“I don’t think religious persecution is a big problem in the United States,” he explained. “I do think … it’s very easy to live your life in such a way that religion doesn’t matter. It doesn’t impinge on it, and you don’t really even remember that it’s there.”

By engaging in “weird rituals that you wouldn’t otherwise do and don’t have any purpose other than to acknowledge and comply with religious authority,” Oman is doing his best to swim — or drive, as the case may be — against this stream of forgetfulness.

That’s why next year, when the weather begins to warm once more and the cherry blossoms bloom, you’ll find Oman piling the miles onto the family car, winding his way north to sign a contract for food he will never see, cupboards he will never open and booze he will never taste.