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The Kitniyot Debate: Are We Not One People?

The Kitniyot Debate: Are We Not One People?

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Question

I am Ashkenazi (Jew of Eastern European descent) and my wife is Sephardi (an Oriental Jew). She grew up eating rice on Passover, which my family custom would never allow. Every Passover, we have the same discussion: how can it beAren't we all part of the same religion? that one group of Jews can eat rice on Passover and another group can't? Aren't we all part of the same religion? Isn't this an example of how the Torah can be interpreted in so many ways, and there is no one true Judaism?

Answer:

Actually, when you compare the way Ashkenazi and Sephardi Jews celebrate Passover, you will be astounded not by the differences, but by the similarities. The discrepancies are so minor and external that they just prove the rule—we are one people with one Torah.

Jews are forbidden by the Torah to eat or even own leavened products on Passover. This means any product made from the five grains (wheat, barley, spelt, rye, oats), other than matzah, cannot be eaten or in your possession for the eight days of Passover. Jews living in certain areas took on an extra stringency and forbade rice and legumes on Passover.

The Jews of the Orient, however, did not take on this custom. Perhaps the conditions of growing and storing those products in their lands did not warrant this extra precaution. This means that the Seder menu of a Jewish family from Iraq or Yemen will vastly differ from the fare served at a table of German or Hungarian Jews. The former will eat rice, peas, beans and corn; the latter will not.

But that's just the menu. If you look at every other aspect of the Seder, it is almost identical from one community to another. To illustrate this, imagine the following scenario:

Take a 9th century Persian Jew, and transport him through time and space to 19th century Poland. After traversing the globe and jumping a thousand years forward, he arrives in a time and a land that are totally foreign to him. He walks the streets in a daze, completely lost and out of place.

But take him to a Seder, and he will feel completely at home. His host family may look different in color and dress, and they may eat Ashkenazi foods that are unfamiliar to his Persian palate, but the Seder itself will be exactly the same as his family Seder back home. He will hear the children ask the same four questions that his own children ask him. He will eat the same matzah and bitter herbs, drink the same four cups of wine, and read the same prayers and biblical quotes. Even the songs, while sung to different tunes, will have the same Hebrew lyrics.

Most importantly, he will hear the exact same story, the story every Jewish family has told every year for over three thousand years, the story ofWe are still one people our common ancestors who were slaves in Egypt until G‑d set them free.

This is nothing short of amazing. Two thousand years of exile has not weakened our inner connection. Dispersal across the globe has not loosened our bonds of shared history and united destiny. With all the fragmentation and factionalism that we all complain about, we are still one people. This is felt at Passover more than ever.

Rather than focusing on the superficial disparities between communities, look at our internal connection. We are all telling the same story. G‑d took us out of Egypt to make us one nation, united by the Torah, our common history and our common goal. Some eat rice, some don't, and it matters not. We are one family, the children of Israel.

For more information about the various customs regarding Kitniyot, please see The History, Rationale and Practice of Avoiding Kitniyot on Passover.

Aron Moss is rabbi of the Nefesh Community in Sydney, Australia, and is a frequent contributor to Chabad.org.
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Anonymous via jewishcabo.com March 31, 2017

But it is not just Pesach food that has differences. Ashkenazim and sephardim differ in many customs. But it is only in customs basically. And that is because of where they originate from and the different customs their Rabbis took on or approved of. So there is no problem. Torah allows for these differences. But we all have one Torah.
the main thing is to respect each person's customs and see the commonality and unity rather than the differences. Reply

Yehuda Shurpin for Chabad.org February 14, 2016

Re: Celiac Disease There is nowadays gluten-free oat Matzot that should be ok fine for who has celiac disease. For more on gluten-free Matzot see Can I Have Gluten-Free Matzah on Passover? Reply

Moshe Moore San Angelo February 12, 2016

Celiac Disease Given the stringencies associated with celiac disease, would this imply that a person with celiac disease could eat motzi made from rice, potato and bean combination? Specifically, to satisfy the requirement of eating such the first nights? Reply

Anonymous Canada April 19, 2015

Howard/Weinshank I love the clarity of mind you both have - your answers are realistic and without want. I especially like the reference to Rambam you made Howard. Rambam in my mind represents common sense - something gravely lacking in our world culture today.

Shalom
Reply

howard ny April 17, 2015

Weinshank (below) asks the best question Of course, it is unlikely that Hillel or any significant number of the early sages observed additional restrictions to their Pesach observance--beyond the clear and severe laws on true chametz.

In being strict about the kitniyot minhag, we are for the most part relying on relatively recent Polish/German/Lithuanian custom (and the Rabbis who decided to adopt it as the laws of their communities). That strain contrasts very directly with the statements of Rabbi Caro, and the lack of any acknowledgment by the early and most important Rishonim, Rashi and the Rambam, who may have thought of restrictions against kitniyot as mistaken restrictions interfering with the more vital mitzoth of fully celebrating the Festival while fully abstaining from chametz. Reply

Feigele Boca Raton FL April 16, 2015

Pessah Dinner or Passover Story? So much emphasize has been placed on the food rather than on the story of Passover! Isn’t Passover all about the Freedom our ancestors acquired by the goodness of heart of our G-d who took pity on his creatures who followed his commandments? I don’t believe that all the ingredients used for this particular dinner was a concern for G-d when he liberated us from slavery. It seems more like a debate/Feud between two different cultures coming from one Nation! Reply

Don Weinshank 48823 April 15, 2015

"Both are the words of the living God," "In deciding between the opinions of the School of Hillel and the School of Shammai, the Sages ruled that "both are the words of the living God, but the law is in accordance with the School of Hillel" (TJ, Ber. 1d)."

In this debate, who is Hillel? Who is Shammai?

Perhaps the best answer is to be in accord of the minhag of the home in which the Seder is celebrated. Reply

Anonymous Toronto April 15, 2015

Sadly it's not just rice and beans. Anise, fennel, coriander, green beans, cumin all kitniot. Those are core spices/herbs for a Sephardi. My Sephardic friend said she was making the fish for an Ashkenazi Seder. I told said "Are you crazy trying to cook for Ashenazi on Pesach?! First of all your canola oil is kitniot. You can't use cumin or cilantro; also Kitniot. The fava beans on the side kitniot. She said what? How am I supposed to make the fish? You just took away all the ingredients. Not exactly a superficial problem. Reply

Howard New York April 7, 2015

no, not a cop-out @Jeffrey, I am skeptical about the whole kitniyot minhag, as it is neither native custom of the United States (whose Jewish community was not founded by German or Polish Jews, but the Spanish-Portuguese!) or Eretz Yisrael (whose majority are also clearly not Hungarians, Lithuanians etc.). But that said, the Rabbi's expression here is beautiful and en pointe. Because of our devotion to the Text, our rituals and understanding in substance are much greater than are our differences. Am Yisrael Chai. And a chag kasher v'sameach to you. Reply

Ed Lexington, MA April 3, 2015

Shamol bayit There is no question - we are ONE people. And our different minhug - customs should not set us apart as long as we are wise enough not make them absolute and argue over them. In this case, Shalom bayit - peace between spouses should take precedence in resolving Ashkenazi-Sephardi custom debate regarding Pesach kitniyot. Reply

Anonymous Canada April 2, 2015

Excellent answer!

On a side note, If we want to get really technical about the leaven and transport ourselves back to the time of the Exodus, it was leaven like we use with sour dough bread that we have continually brewing that we take pieces off of to make new loafs, or we set the bread to rise in the sunshine. That would have not been too difficult and painstaking to remove as it is in today's world.

And as Aron points out, what does it matter what we eat with the Passover as long as there is no leaven? There is no point in majoring in the minors. Shalom Reply

Steven Cardonick Orlando, Florida March 29, 2015

More than nice; what about the rice…. Rabbi Moss is trying to get us to focus on the positive and that is certainly a good thing in itself.
Additionally, many still question whether certain customs should still be adhered to.
Personally, I lean toward personal and family flexibility. An extreme example: I recall one year when my family was separated on Thanksgiving. The following year was a leap year on the common calendar. So we decided to observe the American holiday on February 29th with all the customary November foods, etc. This is to show how people can use their imaginations, make new decisions, and exercise freedom of choice. It makes life enjoyable and interesting.
I see nothing wrong with individuals and families who previously eschewed rice and corn on Passover to enjoy, and chew, to their hearts’ delight. Reply

Feigele Boca Raton FL March 29, 2015

Do you have a better answer? If this is what you call a "cop out answer", then, what are your views on the question? any suggestions? any advices? your comment is not an answer either! If you disapprove, then let's hear from better solutions. Reply

Jeffrey Mtl March 27, 2015

answer the question!! This is a cop out answer. Reply

Feigele Boca Raton FL March 25, 2015

One People, Different Places If we are Jewish, then we are all the same no matter where we come from. Only the customs—not the traditions—are different. There are no set menus from the Torah. One eats the food they find where ever they live and adapt it to the Jewish Holidays. I am Ashkenaze and married a Sephardic and kept my mother’s customs and also adapted my spouse’s customs, which I enjoy immensely as well as my own. I was taught by my parents and in Hebrew school that we weren’t supposed to eat anything that rises/expand since our ancestors dwelling in the desert didn’t have the means to cook anything but just the sun and water, which produced the Matza. I won’t make or eat rice for Passover since it expands. There are plenty of other foods you can make so why even argue about it. If some people make it, it’s their prerogative. But don’t let this divide us! Reply

Anonymous March 24, 2015

kitniyot crisis Dear R. Shurpin,

Re: Shulchan Aruch Orech Chaim 453. Is this not precisely the issue? Even the R. Isserles does not dispute R. Caro's codification that chametz is limited to true grains and not legumes.

It bears noting that many Ashkenazim follow a minhag of avoiding mustard, which is specifically cited (for purposes of understanding whether grains may ferment when mixed with mustard or vinegar), and therefore presumed not to be forbidden in Pesachim 40.

This does suggest that the minhagim changed over time, and departed from earlier custom in ways that we do not know. Reply

Yehuda Shurpin for Chabad.org March 23, 2015

Re: Kitniyot crisis First, I would point out that the Gaon of Vilna (See Shulchan Aruch Orech Chaim 453 and Biur Hagra ad loc) cites the Talmud in Pesachim (40b) in which we find that that Rava objected to the workers of the Exilarch cooking a food called chasisi on passover since people confused it with Chometz. The commentary of Tosefos (ad loc) explains that, according to the Aruch, “chasisi” are lentils and thus, argues the Gaon of Vilna, we already have the basis for the concern of Kitniyos in Talmudic times.

Second, I would strongly suggest reading the article linked to at the end of this article The History, Rationale and Practice of Avoiding Kitniyot on Passover. Reply

Shimon UK March 23, 2015

An answer Let's not be apologetic about this lets answer the question directly, which has been alluded to - the transportation and storage of rice and legumes often involved contact with flour in Ashkenazi countries and so as a precaution this extra stringency was adopted. Its important to note that in many Sphardi communities the custom of easting rice comes with a prerequisite which is that each and every grain etc has to be checked before Pesach to ensure that it is free of flour a quite time consuming process so the Sphardim were not so lenient as it forst appears - my sister in law is Sphardi and she recalls the hours spent checking rice and beans. We could also say that everyone agrees that from a Torah perspectice we are permitted to eat these products but once the precaution was established it has the status of binding law which can only be overturned by a Beis Din greater in Torah Authority and in Number than the one that instituted the practice. Reply

Harry Feivel Jerusalem, Israel March 22, 2015

Correcting an error my recent comment. Of course the decision of banning rice is based on the story of sifting a bag of RICE thirteen times and finding a persistent wheat grain!
I regret that mixed the grains! Reply

thebluebird11 Coral Springs March 22, 2015

Call me a rebel, call me what you will, but a Jew is a Jew is a Jew, and if rice is K4P for that Jew over there to my left, it is OK for that Jew over there to my right. Does God differentiate? Does He prefer to have us argue over something so petty? I am not going to alienate anyone from my house or Seder table, especially not my child, for whom I would lay down my life, over a bowl of rice. Whatever their reasons were 1000 years ago, as far as I can see they are no longer valid, in this day and age, and in my environment. They could not foresee how things would be. Are human beings so prideful and full of themselves that they think what they do now will mater and be unquestioned 1000 years from now? We all came from one Jew, 12 tribes. Anyone else here is perfectly well entitled to their opinion, of course; I am just giving my 2 cents. Reply

Chaviva Israel April 10, 2017
in response to thebluebird11:

The differences in minhagim between Ashkenazim and Sephardim are numerous and can be found in a many areas of observance - not only on Pessach. How the hot plate is used on Shabbos, the use of glass for milk vs meat, women's obligations in terms of counting the Omer (and other mitzvahs), birckat hamazon, eating honey vs date on Rosh HaSahana (many Sfaradim don't permit honey on their table at all on Rosh HaShana). We should keep all our minhagim in place with great care. Minhagim are precious to HaShem and they are all correct and all accepted as true. That's where ahavat Yisrael comes to play - I treasure your minhag just as much as I treasure mine. I want you to keep your minhagim so much so that I happily accept the fact that I may not be able to eat in your home for a few days out of the year. They are all an integral part of true, Torah based Judiasm. Reply

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