Kitnyot: Truly a “Has-Bean”

Let’s get one thing clear from the get-go. What I write here is my opinion and is not meant to be construed as Halacha. I merely posit the issue of Kitnyot and in no way am I telling people to abandon a minhag that has been kept for generations. This is one of those posts that falls into the category of “If only I had the power to……..”

Kitnyot, the prohibition of not eating various legumes on Pesach, which was adopted by many Ashkenazim and in some limited Sefardi communities over the last few hundred years has its roots in the 13th century. Among some of the reasons for the prohibition:

Rabbeynu Peretz (Hagahot Semak) adduces 3 reasons:

1. Kitniyot are “cooked in a pot” and dishes made from grains are also “cooked in a  pot.” If we become accustomed to a porridge made from kitniyot, we may err and also eat a porridge made from grain since both are cooked in pots.

2. According to Bava Metzia, chapter 7, kitniyot are called “something that is piled up”, like the five species of grain, so if we permit kitniyot, they will think that it is permissible to cook the five species of grain, and, therefore, they made the decree. He even prohibits mustard because it is “piled up”.

3. In some places, bread is commonly made from kitniyot in the same way as bread is made from the five species of grain, and if we permit the use of kitniyot, they will think it is permissible to bake bread from the five species.

While there are other reasons given, for the purpose of this post, I will stay with this above list. And while there are several poskim (decisors of Jewish law) who have rejected the above (even among Ashkenazim) I will suffice with the statement of Rabbeinu Yeruḥam ben Meshulam (Provence, 14c). He stated: “And those who are accustomed not to eat rice and cooked kitniyot on Pesaḥ, this is a foolish custom, unless they are doing it in order to be stringent with themselves, and I do not know why” (Toledot Adam Vehava, Netiv 5, part 3, Venice, 1553, fol. 41a)

Allow me to chime in with my thoughts.

It seems that, in the main, the reason for not using kitnyot was the idea it may be thought that a similar item made of real chametz may then be used, and mistakes will be made. Perhaps that MAY have been a concern in the 13th and 14th century. Clearly this is not the case today, and I can prove it.

Take a look around at all the Kosher for Pesach products that are available that CLEARLY look like they are chametz! Pastas, rolls, cakes to name just a few! If there was a serious issue of mistaken thinking that “Oh, since corn is a sorta-grainish-looking item. then we may also be able to use wheat,” then how in the world are ANY of these KLP food items that 10000% look like chametz items permitted to be produced in the first place? You can’t have your cake and eat it too. You can’t say kitnyot are prohibited for the centuries-old reason of “one may mix up with chametz” and then at the same time go ahead and be permitted to manufacture all these chametz-looking KLP products. It is either both or none.

As I said in the beginning, this post is all “in theory,” as I have no standing to change a custom that is rooted in the Jewish people for centuries (For me it makes no difference anyways, since as a Sefardi, I partake of kitnyot.)

While this custom may not change in my lifetime, it certainly seems (at least here in Israel) that the move towards abandoning this custom will be much more common down the road.

In the meantime, yes, the words of אל תיטוש תורת אמך (not to veer from one’s tradition) still holds very powerful sway. May the current sages of Israel eventually lift the ban on the reviled legume, and may tens of thousands of Jews enhance their Pesach with a new array of foods available to enjoy!

Until then, kitnyot is here to stay.

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3 thoughts on “Kitnyot: Truly a “Has-Bean”

  1. Going along with the reasons for Kitniyot that you cited: I don’t think the Gezeira was made to prohibit anything that looked like Chametz. Rather it was to prohibit items that can cause confusion, and to increase awareness (ערנות) of the constant application of the Issur Chametz. This attention is crucial, as our daily meal and snack routines are affected, and habit easily comes into play. (“שמא ימצא גלוסקא יפה…”). I suspect that at that period in history, the awareness was becoming blurred, and a correction was needed to strengthen it. Nowadays, one who buys or bakes Pesach bagels, is very aware that they are jumping through hoops (no pun intended) to get them as Kasher L’Pesach. The conversations refer to success in finding another look-alike product, which is a sign of heightened awareness.
    I’m sure that as a Shul Rabbi, you dealt with Pesach issues where people made large or small mistakes because of confusion and/or misunderstandings.
    Bottom line, it’s a week, 7.5 days. IMHO, the slightly greater cost and inconvenience of no Kitniyot is worth the increased focus on the message of the Pesach prohibitions. For people with real dietary issues, there are Halachic exceptions made anyway,
    חג כשר ושמח!

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  2. I had the following theoretical question arise this year (like yourself, as a follower of the shitot beit yosef it wouldn’t make a difference to myself):
    If during the time AFTER a person has cleaned their house of chametz when out and picked kitniyot themselves, and brought it into their house, whereupon they KNEW there was no chametz. We’ll assume that it was picked before the time of biur so that we can assume any hashash of chametz within will be nullified (not that there would be in the first place), would these kitniyot be permitted, since there’s no question of them being stored with chametz? in particular i thought of this with related to one who would go out and pick mustard seeds for example and open the pods after washing, thus REALLY ensuring a chametz-free environment. It was something we discussed amongst family, but haven’t necessarily asked anyone yet, it would seem the biggest reason to prohibit this batch of kitniyot would be marit ayin.

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