• June 19, 2024
  • 13 5784, Sivan
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Who Can Eat Kitniyot? April 5

Who Can Eat Kitniyot? April 5

A large and growing segment of the Jewish population are eating kitniyot, the group of legumes which originally only Jews from Sephardic countries ate during Pesach. Join this class and learn about how the custom evolved, what it means, and who eats kitniyot today.

April 5, 2016 5:00 pm - 6:00 pm
Who Can Eat Kitniyot? April 5: Lesson 1
Class description

Hello Everyone, In yesterday’s class we discussed the Ashkenazic[1] custom of not eating קטניות on Pesach. This minhag is the subject of debate every year, when well-meaning people attack it and call for its repeal. This is particularly true here in Israel when people call for the abandonment of this custom in the name of communal unity. This custom has almost from its inception been surrounded by controversy. The Beit Yosef records that some of the greatest Ashkenazi authorities paid no attention to this custom. The custom was described as nonsensical by Rabbeinu Yerocham and the Tur himself ( who was the son of the Rosh who was a disciple of the great Ashkenazi leader מהר”ם מרוטנברג) described the custom as an excessive stringency which “we” don’t follow. Why does this custom provoke such opposition? Firstly, the custom seems to be in direct opposition the Gemarah. There are of course Rabbinic enactments which were adopted in order to minimize the possibility of violating Torah prohibitions.[2] But the custom of not eating קטניות is just that, a custom. It is certainly not prohibited by the Gemarah.[3] The accepted Halacha in the Gemarah is that only five species of grains can become chametz and consequently can be used to make matzah. These grains are wheat, barley, oats, rye and spelt. Other grains do not undergo the process of chametz and may be eaten freely on Pesach. Why then did the Medieval Ashkenazi community adopt a prohibition against קטניות? The reasons were not known with any certainty, but the Ashkenazi authorities suggested two possible explanations for the custom. One reason is that chametz grains may become mixed with the קטניות grains. Since it is very difficult to sift out the chametz grains from the non-chametz grains the custom was adopted to forbid all types of grain. A second reason was that since porridges and other similar foods can be prepared from both chametz grains and קטניותand the porridges resemble each other, people who are not learned may see קטניות-based porridge and think that it is permitted to make porridge from chametz grains. The Ashkenazi authorities realized that it is easy to question these explanations for a custom which forbids that which the Gemarah specifically permits. Therefore the later Asheknazi authorities wrote in the strongest terms that Ashkenazi Jews may not violate the custom: שערי תשובה על שולחן ערוך אורח חיים הלכות פסח סימן תנג סעיף א “…וע’ בלקוטי מהרי”ל אחר שהביא המנהג קלז /הלז/ שכתב האוכלם בפסח עובר בלאו דלא תסור וכל העובר על דברי חכמים חייב מיתה כו’ ע”ש.” שולחן ערוך אורח חיים הלכות פסח סימן תנג סעיף א אלו דברים שיוצאים בהם ידי חובת מצה, בחטים ובשעורים ובכוסמין ובשבולת שועל ובשיפון, ( והמנהג ליקח לכתחלה חטים), (מהרי”ל), אבל לא באורז ושאר מיני קטניות, וגם אינם באים לידי חימוץ ומותר לעשות מהם תבשיל. הגה: ויש אוסרים (טור והגהות מיימוני פ”ה ומרדכי פ’ כל שעה). והמנהג באשכנז להחמיר, ואין לשנות. Another reason cited by opponents of the custom of קטניות is that it creates divisions among the Jews on such an important holiday. This is particularly true here in Israel where Sephardic and Ashkenazi Jews are neighbors, friends and even relatives by marriage. The custom of קטניות creates all sorts of complexities when families plan their holiday meals. Why do we need to follow customs, especially when they are undoubtedly burdensome? The Gemarah discusses customs and their binding nature in masechet Pesachim. The Gemarah tells the story of the people of a town called Bayshan. The ancestors of these people adopted a custom of not sailing from Tzor to Sidon on Fridays (since that could interfere with their preparations for Shabbat). The descendants of those people asked Rabbi Yochanan if they may abandon that custom. They explained that their financial situation does not allow them to miss trading in those markets on Fridays. Rabbi Yochanan said that they must adhere to the custom of their ancestors and he based this on a verse in Sefer Mishlei: תלמוד בבלי מסכת פסחים דף נ עמוד ב בני ביישן נהוג דלא הוו אזלין מצור לצידון במעלי שבתא. אתו בנייהו קמיה דרבי יוחנן, אמרו לו: אבהתין אפשר להו, אנן לא אפשר לן. – אמר להו: כבר קיבלו אבותיכם עליהם, שנאמר (משלי א) שמע בני מוסר אביך ואל תטש תורת אמך. The source and rationale for the prohibition of קטניות have always been obscure. What is also obscure is the definition and scope of the prohibition. What types of food are prohibited as קטניות? The “list” of prohibited items is determined to a very great extent by custom. The early sources mention that not only grains and beans are forbidden but some authorities felt that potatoes and coffee are forbidden as well. An example of the difficulty in deciding what is or is not forbidden is the peanut. In the early 20thcentury the German rabbinic authority Rav David Tzvi Hoffmann ruled that peanuts are קטניות. He based his ruling on the fact that peanuts grow in a fashion similar to other legumes which are considered to be קטניות. Later in the 20thcentury rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l wrote that he could rule that peanuts are קטניות. Whereas Rav Hoffmann was willing to expand the scope of the prohibition to include new species which were unknown in Medieval Europe, Rav Feinstein zt”l objected to this approach. Rav Feinstein held that קטניות is a custom which we have inherited from our Ashkenazi forbears. What has been forbidden by the custom remains forbidden, but there is no reason to add new species to the list of forbidden קטניות. The debate about peanuts is being repeated today with the quinoa seed. Some authorities adopt the position of Rav Feinstein zt”l and say there is no obligation to broaden the scope the קטניות prohibition. Other authorities point out that while Rav Feinstein’s arguments are persuasive they do not reflect the actual Ashkenazi practice. These authorities point out that corn was unknown to the medieval Ashkenzazi community but nonetheless Ashkenazi Jews do no not eat corn on Pesach. The rabbis who prohibit quinoa feel that they are following the example of their predecessors. I hope the shiur was interesting and informative. Chag kasher v’sameiach, Stuart Fischman

[1] I should point out that there is a custom among some communities of Moroccan Jews not to eat rice on Pesach.

[2] A good example of this are the laws of Muktzah on Shabbat.

[3] The Tannah, Rabbi Yochanan ben Nuri does indeed hold that rice can be used to make matzah and can become chametz, but the Halacha is not in accord with his opinion.

Rabbi Dr. Stuart Fischman graduated from Yeshiva University in 1980 and the dental school of Columbia University in 1985. In 1989 he began studying and teaching at Yeshivat Hamivtar and now studies and teaches at Yeshivat Machanaim in Efrat. He has rabbinic ordination from Rav Zalman Nechemia Goldberg.