The Custom Of Not Eating Kitniyot On Pesach
by Rabbi Yedidya Krauthammer – Rav Hamachshir
Let us start by saying that Kitniyot is not Chametz. The Chametz referred to in the Torah is specifically that which results from the fermentation of one of five distinct types of grain : 1) wheat 2) barley 3) rye 4) oats and 5) spelt. Anything else even if it appears physically to be like Chametz is halachically not chametz and therefore is allowed according to the Torah. One of the great sages Rabbi Yochanan ben Nuri adds rice to the list, but his opinion is rejected by his colleagues who claim that physically only the aforementioned five ferment in a certain way that is different to all other cereals and therefore only their chametz is forbidden, nothing else. [source: Pesachim 35a] We see that the great Talmudic sage Rava ate rice on Pesach (Pesachim 114b).
At the beginning of the middle ages certain Ashkenazi communities started to refrain from eating Kitniyot on Pesach and by the time of Rabbeinu Peretz (one of the authors of Tosfot and author of the noted Halachic glosses on the Sefer Mitsvot Katan – 13th century) this custom had spread throughout the Ashkenazic Jewish world. [source: Tur and Bet Yossef; beginning of Ohr Hachayim 453]
Three reasons are given for this chumra (stringency):
- Since Kitniyot are processed and made into foods that look similar to those made from chametz grain, there is a concern that there will be confusion and people will come to eat Chametz i.e. porridge or semolina on Pesach.
- Since Kitniyot are milled and ground into flour that can be cooked and processed without any concern for Chametz there is the possibility that people seeing this will do the same with similar looking chametz flour (similar to 1).
- Kitniyot grains can look similar to those of the above five grains and so there is a possibility that in storage some ‘chametz grain’ will find its way into a sack of kitniyot grain; later in cooking or as soon as there is contact with water the chametz grain will become real chametz and will render the whole food chametz. (Even a minute mixture of chametz (‘mashehu chametz’) renders the whole food inedible on Pesach)
The previous concern is germane today where, for agricultural reasons, there is sometimes a rotation of crops and often stalks of last year’s crop (wheat) will come up inadvertently with this year’s (corn). The problem is particularly serious when this happens to the extent of more than one in sixty (this has been known to happen), leaving no opportunity at all to apply the principle of “bittul”. Altogether it is possible today to find other grains in sacks of rice.
It should be noted that certain Sefardic communities also adopted the chumra (stringency) of refraining from kitniyot; namely Baghdad, Tunis, Izmir (Turkey) and Morocco.
What is Included in Kitniyot?
- Rice, corn, millet, sorghum, beans, broad beans and kidney beans, peas and chickpeas, buckwheat, cannabis, sesame, mustard, linseed, poppy seed, lupine, clover, tamarind, cumin, caraway, alfalfa, mustard, sunflower seeds, coriander and others (mustard and linseed were added to the list because of their similarity in growth to kitniyot; coriander because of the frequency of chametz grains being found with it).
- The noted authority Rabbi Moshe Feinstein writes [O. Ch. 3.63] that those products which were not known or available in Europe at the time that the kitniyot ban started are not normally included. (A notable exception to this is corn, which although introduced into Europe at a later period, has become accepted by Ashkenazi authorities as a member of the “kitniyot family”.) For this reason some are lenient in relation to quinoa and peanuts, also with soya and canola oil, since they weren’t around at that time.
- Potato is not included, although its flour looks like and can be used in similar ways to wheat flour, because it was not around at the time. Aniseed and dill are not included in kitniyot but have to be checked for possible admixture of chametz grain.
- Lecithin (made from canola and used in the production of chocolate) is strictly speaking not included, there are some authorities who forbid it.
- Today, rice or other kitniyot, indeed any food that incurs a concern for Chametz, comes with a “Kosher lePesach” hechsher, occasionally with the added words “Le’ochlei Kitniyot” i.e. for kitniyot eaters only.
What is Prohibited?
- The prohibition only applies to the eatingof kitniyot; they canbe kept in the house. Also it is permitted to benefit from them, i.e. to use their oil for lighting.
- A non-kitniyot person can cook for a kitniyot person, preferably he or she should make some sign that the food is not for self consumption.
- Similarly it is permitted for all to sell kitniyot, provided that it is Kosher lePesach, i.e. checked for admixture of chametz.
- If kitniyot inadvertently falls into a Pesach dish, then whatever is removable should be removed, the rest is “bateil” i.e. rendered non-existent according to the principle of “bittul’ – getting ‘lost’ and assimilated in the majority. (though this principle does not normally apply on Pesach because of the severity of chametz, with regards to kitniyot which is not real chametz, we are lenient.) But if the majority of a dish is constituted of kitniyot, then it is forbidden.
- A non-kitniyot person may use utensils that have been used for kitniyot if 24 hours has gone by; if the food was cooked in a kitniyot pot within that time, it is allowed bedieved, i.e. after the fact.
- According to most rulings, kitniyot is only forbidden in the way that real chametz is forbidden i.e. after contact with water and having been left for at least 18 minutes.
- There are differing opinions as to oil and spirits that are extracted from kitniyot, some forbid it and some allow it, whilst a third opinion says that this forbidden only if the original Kitniyot product was washed or came into contact with water. The prevalent custom is to refrain from canola and soya oil, but not from linseed oil.
- There is no prohibition of kitniyot for a sick person even if it is not serious. (The custom is mentioned of swallowing linseed with water as a remedy for constipation.) Similarly young children whose diet includes a kitniyot food are allowed to have it. It is proper to allocate special utensils in these cases and of course make sure that there is no concern for real chametz.
- An Ashkenazi woman who marries a Sefardi adopts her husband’s minhag(custom) and is allowed to eat kitniyot.
Rescinding the Custom of not Eating Kitniyot
There were great authorities who expressed an interest in having the prohibition of kitniyot removed (see Mor Uktsia from R. Yaakov Emden 653) but their opinion has not been accepted by the prevailing authorities and although a private vow or stringency that a person accepts on him or herself can be removed, this is not the case with a general prohibition that has been accepted by the whole community of Ashkenazi Jews and has been observed for hundreds of years. (Chasam Sofer O. Ch. 122)
The leading Ashkenaz 14th century Possek Rabbi Moshe Molin (commonly known as the Maharil) declares the eating of kitniyot by Ashkenaz Jews on Pesach constitutes a transgression of the Torah injunction “Do not depart …. (from the instruction of the sages)” [Deut. 17.11] and the great 19th century Possek, the Chayei Adam (127) declares it a transgression of the Rabbinic injunction [Proverbs 1.8.] “Do not forsake the teaching of your mother” i.e. Jewish custom.