What are Kitniyot and when can I eat it?

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During Passover, we are traditionally prohibited from eating foods made from wheat, barley, oats, spelt, and rye. However, in the early medieval period, it became customary for Ashkenazi Jews to not eat a category of foods called kitniyot.

What are kitniyot?

Kitniyot are loosely translated as legumes and refer to foods like beans, corn, rice, and others. The major concern of the authorities at the time was that these items could become mixed with the prohibited items and one might accidentally eat something they shouldn’t. Rice and wheat, for example, can look pretty similar if you’re not looking closely.

This custom is widespread among Ashkenazi Jews today, though that is changing.

The Committee of Jewish Law and Standards, a body of rabbis within the Rabbinical Assembly, have put together a number of rulings and resources for those who want to learn more about this practice.

The most updated resource available is this year’s Passover guide, which you can find here.

In this guide, you will find the status of a number of foods that are and are not classified as kitniyot with specific instructions on what to do. I strongly recommend that you take a look at this guide before making any decisions.

For those who want to dig in a bit deeper, below you will find a summary of the various recent rulings. Quotes are taken from the respective decisions (teshuvah/teshuvot).

A Teshuvah Permitting Ashkenazim to Eat Kitniyot on Pesah (2015)

By: Rabbi Amy Levin and Rabbi Avram Israel Reisner

Question:

“Since it is recognized that Sephardim permit the eating of kitniyot (legumes, rice, and corn) on Pesah, although Ashkenazim traditionally do not do so, might kitniyot be permitted to Ashkenazim?”

Conclusion and Psak Halakhah:

“In order to bring down the cost of making Pesah and support the healthier diet that is now becoming more common, and given the inapplicability today of the primary concerns that seem to have led to the custom of prohibiting kitniyot, and further, given our inclination in our day to present an accessible Judaism unencumbered by unneeded prohibitions, more easily able to participate in the culture that surrounds us, we are prepared to rely on the fundamental observance recorded in the Talmud and codes and permit the eating of kitniyot on Pesah.”

Note: There are further details and it is recommended that one read the teshuvah in its entirety.

Rice, beans and kitniyot on Pesah – are they really forbidden? (2015)

By: Rabbi David Golinkin

Question:

“Why do Ashkanazic Jews refrain from eating rice, beans and kitniyot on Pesah? Is there any way of doing away with this custom which causes much hardship and also divides Jewish communities and even members of the same family?”

Conclusion and Psak Halakhah:

“Unfortunately, today there is constant movement from the Sephardic to the Ashkenazic, from the lenient to the stringent…Hence, the issue under discussion has the potential to unite the Jewish people without losing anything. Indeed, the Chief Rabbinate of the IDF ruled many years ago that all IDF soldiers are permitted to eat rice and kitniyot on Pesaḥ, but this was later rescinded. Nonetheless, we should adopt this ruling in Israel and the Diaspora. In so doing, we will differentiate between halakhah and a mistaken custom, enhance the joy of the festival, ease the burden of those with limited means, and move another step closer to uniting the Jewish people throughout the world.”

Note: There are further details and it is recommended that one read the teshuvah in its entirety.

Dissenting opinion – Kitniyot on Pesah (2016)

By: Rabbi Miriam Berkowitz, Rabbi Micah Peltz, Rabbi Baruch Frydman-Kohl, Rabbi David Hoffman, Rabbi Noah Bickart

Overview:

The teshuvot of Rabbis Levin and Reisner and Rabbi Golinkin seek to erase the Ashkenazi minhag, to permit eating of actual kitniyot as well as their derivatives. Arguments range from wishing to enhance the joy of the holiday, reducing costs of Pesah observance, lessening the difference between different edot of Jews, and simply abolishing a minhag that had a mistaken or baseless reason/ beginning (minhag sh’tut or minhag ta’ut). In our opinion, these reasons are not strong or plausible enough to justify the ruling, and do not take into account possible side effects of such an abrupt change.

Conclusion and Psak Halakhah:

“The Ashkenazi custom not to eat kitniyot remains relevant and compelling and remains in force. Vegans and vegetarians may eat kitniyot for health reasons if necessary. We permit the eating of derivatives of kitniyot with proper supervision and also affirm the power of custom and tradition for those who choose not to eat even the derivatives of kitniyot.”

Note: There are further details and it is recommended that one read the teshuvah in its entirety.

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