What’s New in Kitniyos?

11

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kit[By Rabbi Yair Hoffman]

It is a custom that is in the news.  The OU, for example, recently changed its interpretation on what items fall into it.  In certain circles in Israel it is a custom under relentless attack.  And it is a custom that is far older than many religions, including both Protestant Christianity and even Islam.  We are, of course, referring to the custom of Ashkenazic families to refrain from consuming kitniyos.

HISTORY

The minhag to not eat kitniyos (often defined as “legumes”) on Pesach dates back to the times of the Geonim (see SMaK 222). During the time of the Gemara, however, the prohibition did not exist. Indeed, the Gemara tells us that Rabbah ate rice in front of Rav Huna (Pesachim 114b). Rav Ashi also rules that rice may be eaten on Pesach. But, clearly, in the time of the Geonim things changed.

REASONS

The reason why kitniyos were forbidden, of course, was as a protective measure. The Mishnah Berurah (O.C. 453:6, 464:5) provides a few explanations:

  • Kitniyos are harvested and processed in the same way that chametz is. The masses would confuse the two and come to permit grains for themselves.
  • Kitniyos can also be ground and baked, just like chametz, and people might come to permit chametz grains.
  • The Kitniyos themselves may have actual chametz mixed in. All three reasons are therefore protective in nature. The prohibition was strictly limited to consumption; one may own and derive benefit from kitniyos on Pesach.

WHAT IS INCLUDED?

Just what is included in kitniyos? The term “legumes”is a misnomer, as that word simply means a plant in the family Fabaceae (or Leguminosae), or the edible fruit or seeds of such plants, such as beans and peas. The prohibition extended beyond just legumes, however. Rice, mustard, and corn (see M.B. 453:4) are also included. So are buckwheat, lentils, and sesame seeds.

What about Quinoa?  The Badatz of the Eida Chareidis (Madrich HaKashrus 5772, Ch. 15, pg. 47) views it like corn which came to be included in the prohibition, while Rav Heineman from the Star K rules that it is permissible.  The OU initially forbade it, with a printed response by Rav Yisroel Belsky (Ve’Kasher HaDavar (July 2012, pg. 9) explaining that Quinoa fit every criterion for Kitniyos.  Rav Hershel Schachter had disagreed with Rabbi Belsky from the outset on this issue and in December of 2013, Rabbi Genack announced that Quinoa is not to be considered Kitniyos.  They did this, according to the announcement, after investigating issues of cross-contamination in several countries.   In addition to quinoa, OU Kosher has concluded that related canihua, kiwicha and maca seeds would also not be considered Kitniyos.

The TaZ writes that it is simply impossible to clearly define and quantify what is included in the category.

What about coffee? Is that a bean? The Shaarei Teshuvah forbids coffee as kitniyos.  The prevalent Minhag is not to follow the Shaarei Teshuvah and to permit it.  (This was true even before Maxwell House sponsored the English language Haggadahs).

And what about peanuts? Some say yes, some say no.  Many of our older readers will remember the peanut oil with a Pesach hechsher that used to dominate our kitchen cabinets.  No longer.

WHY THE STRINGENCIES?

And why are we so stringent regarding derivatives of kitniyos? This comes from a halachah found in the Rama: the Rama indicates that oil made from kitniyos is forbidden just like the kitniyos themselves. Cottonseed oil is perplexing, because some say yes and some say no. Canola oil is kitniyos, too.

FROM WHEN IS IT FORBIDDEN?

When are kitniyos forbidden? The Sheivet HaLevi (Vol. III, No. 31) rules that the time we can no longer eat them is the same time as for chametz itself. The Maharsham (Daas Torah 453) permits it, until the evening of Pesach itself.

The minhag is to be stringent, but for those direct descendents of the Maharsham (quite a few of whom live in Lawrence), it would be okay to eat kitniyos on erev Pesach.

THE LENIENCIES
There is also a leniency. Kitniyos is battul b’rov if mixed in accidentally with other (kosher l’Pesach) food (see Mishnah Berurah 453:9). In other words, even if the taste is distinguishable, as long as the kitniyos constitutes less than half of the final mixture and is not removable, the food remains kosher! The Rav Shulchan Aruch says that this doesn’t work if it is the main part of the dish – even when less than half.

Sick people may also eat kitniyos on Pesach, and it is permitted to feed kitniyos to infants or to animals. The Chasam Sofer writes (O.C. 122) not to let it cook a long time in the pot, but rather to heat up the water first and then put in the kitniyos (which is what we do anyway, except when using a rice cooker). Ideally, if one is feeding someone kitniyos, a separate pot should be kept for that use (P’ri Chadash 453). There is no need to kasher, though, if an error was made.

OTHER HALACHOS

Are Kitniyos Muktzah on Shabbos?  No, rules Rav Asher Weiss.  Why not? Because they may be given to a Sephardic Jew on Yom Tov.

When a couple gets married, the wife follows the customs of the husband. So a Sephardic girl who marries an Ashkenazic boy cannot have kitniyos, while an Ashkenazic girl who marries a Sephardic boy may have kitniyos. This is true for a second marriage, as well.

WILL IT BE CHANGED?

Another question: Is the prohibition of kitniyos here to stay? The Teshuvah MeAhavah (No. 259) seems to indicate that it is. He writes that even if the beis din of Shmuel HaRamasi or Eliyahu HaNavi were to reconvene, they would not have the ability to permit kitniyos. And, at least according to some poskim, it is a pretty serious prohibition; the Maharil (Hilchos Pesach 25) writes that violating the minhag can cause one to be put to death!

A PHILOSOPHICAL APPROACH

But why all the stringencies? Why do we forbid so many things and their derivatives, as well? Why on erev Pesach, too? Perhaps a philosophical approach to kitniyos can answer a lot of our questions. One reason, given by the father of Koznitz Hagaddah’s publisher (found in the Nuta Gavriel), is that the word alludes to a notion that means small, while Pesach is associated with things that are great.

To elaborate a bit, kitniyos represents something which is the antithesis of Pesach. Of all the holidays on the Jewish calendar, Pesach connotes greatness”a realization of who we are as a nation, and a concomitant recognition that Hashem had great purpose in redeeming us from the hand of Pharaoh. Within the small nation of Israel lies cosmic significance with a national spiritual destiny that can affect the world. Pesach connotes geulah, redemption, with all the overtones implied in the word.

Kitniyos, on the other hand, alludes to smallness. The word conjures up thoughts of a myopic, small-mindedness of sorts, where the cosmic significance and the national destiny of the Jewish people is ignored. Everything that we do has import, even down to the foods we eat or the foods that we do not eat. Perhaps we are so stringent in avoiding kitniyos to help us dispose of the small-mindedness that can get us stuck into just looking at the trees without seeing the forest. For the same reason, the community of the town of Ostreich refrained from eating kitniyos on any day on which Tachanun is not recited (see Be’er Heitev O.C. 131, citing the Maharil). What is the reason?  Perhaps it is to appeal to the inner voice within us to achieve our destiny, both as a people and as individuals.

The author can be reached at [email protected]

ARTICLE PUBLISHED BY 5TJT


11 COMMENTS

  1. i always thought that kitniyos were first prohibited (as a minhag) in the 1200s (rishonim). i guess i was wrong. does anyone have a source for the gaonic minhag against kintiyos?

  2. Perhaps we are so stringent in avoiding kitniyos to help us dispose of the small-mindedness that can get us stuck into just looking at the trees without seeing the forest.

    Maybe we should all eat kitniyot, so we can deispose of the small-mindedness that can get us stuck into just looking at the trees (minhagim) without seeing the forest (actual halacha).

  3. The author mentions the minhag under attack. I believe this is due to the “halachic mission creep” evidenced by the ‘then it was mutar, now it is assur’ history, peanut oil serving as a fine example. There were always those with expansive views of halacha and minhag, and there were the miniamalists. When the expansionists moved to include potatoes and coffee, there was a hue and cry from the minimalists, and they said hava velo nosif, recognizing certain dangers in the expansion of restrictions. In EY, fot those that ordinarily rely on manufactured products, there is just about nothing that does not contain kitniyos derivatives. The manufacturers realize that sixty percent is Sefardic, and a good chunk of the 40% don’t care, and there are many voices calling for abandonment of the minhag. I, personally jeallousely guard my heritage, but I stick to the ruling I heard that nothing of the new world was available at the time of the Geonim, and they could not have assered what was not in front of them. This applies to coffee (Ethiopia) and all the american natives, such as peanuts, corn, white potato, sunflower, quinoa, AND BEANS.

  4. Can someone explain to me how you could permit potatoes as non-kitniyos while viewing quinoa (with a hashgocha – i.e., guaranteed no taruvos of chametz) as kitniyos??

    and how can you have a discussion of modern day kitniyos without including R’Moshe and his teshuva on peanuts!

    Also, coffee was also a shailah not because of kitniyos, but because during the war they were using chometz filler due to shortages – it was chametz mamash

  5. by the way, the smak on kitniyos is 223 not 222 and does not mention it as a minhag geonim but says “raboisinu nuhugu isur buhem” and it is from “chachumim hakadmoinim.”

  6. 4, it’s not just peanut oil, it’s peanuts themselves. In the olden days, you could eat peanuts on Pesach. R’ Moshe himself said peanuts are not kitniyos. If you look at the OU list of kitniyos, it’s not listed as kitniyos but as “we don’t know, so we don’t eat it.”

  7. Vashti, I saw that ruling of Rav Moshe, and since he was responsible for my life’s direction I was somech on it. I also remember well Rokeach Peanut Oil KP. I tried making peanut butter for something else to spread on matza, but my food processor was not up to the task. It was sort of grainy, but it tasted fresh.

  8. My wife and I have the minhag of always eating rice and lentils on erev Pesach after chatzot, cooked on Pesadik kelim. I’ve even served them for seudah shlishit when erev Pesach fell on Shabat. (And yes, this was with rabbinic approval.)

    And the idea that peanuts used to be mutar and now are asur puts the lie to the idea that minhagim are unchanging.

  9. dear rabbi hoffman,

    i know that in all likelihood you read what sort of comments are written on your article. would you please hep me find the gaonic responsa which bans kitniyos. it was not in the smak 222 (or the smak 223). surely, it must be somewhere. please help me.

    to be sure, i dont think it makes much of a difference if the minug is from the rishoinim or the geoinim but i have been mistaken all my life believing it is a custom from the rishoinim and would love to learn the gaonic source for this. please help a fellow yid. especially since you have made the point to say it is older that islam which is from the 600s i would love to see a source for this earlier than the 1200s. please. have some rachmunis.