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Rabbanit Alissa

For starters, let's talk about one of the hottest topics out there: kitniyot. It all started with an Ashkenazi minhag that we see referenced by the Rema. There, the Shulchan Aruch (Sefardi posek) says לא באורז ושאר מיני קטנית וגם אינם באים לידי חימוץ ומותר לעשות מהם תבשיל, "Rice and other types of kitniyot [are not included in the mitzvah of matza], and these also do not come to be leavened and it is thus permitted to make a cooked food from them". The Rema responds by codifying the Ashkenazi practice: והמנהג באשכנז להחמיר ואין לשנות, "And the custom in Ashkenaz is to be strict, and one should not change this" (Orach Chayim 453:1).

The Mishnah Berurah details what falls under kitniyot and why: Based on how they are harvested and processed, kitniyot products are those foods which may actually have real chametz mixed into them that is hard to remove, causing someone to unintentionally eat chametz on Pesach. Plus, sometimes kitniyot products are ground in the same way as chametz, leading some to assume that if they may eat kitniyot on Pesach, they may also eat chametz (Mishnah Berurah Orach Chayim 453:1:6). The traditional poskim codify these foods to be: Rice, corn, buckwheat/kasha, millet, beans, lentils, peas, sesame seeds, mustard, green beans, snow peas, sugar-snap peas, chickpeas, soybeans, sunflower and poppy seeds.

Rav Moshe Feinstein qualifies that only foods that existed at the time that the chumra of kitniyot took off were included in it, and so 'new' foods since then are not included. And yet, the Mishnah Berurah famously added corn (see above list and 453:1:4) after the establishment of the kitniyot minhag. As a result, there is still debate among poskim today as to if 'new' foods are included in the minhag of refraining from eating kitniyot or not. For example, at one point peanuts were up for debate. In the end, most poskim ruled that they are in fact considered kitniyot in our community, and so the widespread custom is for Ashkenazim to not eat them on Pesach (almonds and cashews are great homemade butter substitutes for those who want an alternative!). But quinoa, has widely been accepted as NOT kitniyot. Decisions about these 'new' foods are made by leading rabbis at the time based on research into the way the food is grown and processed as well as by if the general Jewish community accepts the foods as kitniyot or not.

It is important to note that you may see in Ashkenazi-approved Pesachproducts words that seem like kitniyot (like aspartame, xanthum gum, or maltodextrin)! When you see this, it means that the certifying company has deemed the kitniyot sufficiently 'nishtaneh'. This means it has changed enough from its original form that it is no longer in the same category (this can lead to a larger interesting discussion about genetically modified foods). However, all derivatives that maintain a close enough relation to the original product, like corn oil and soybean oil, are prohibited for consumption under the kitniyot minhag.

Lemaaseh though, kitniyot are NOT actually chametz. This has several huge implications. Kitniyot do NOT need to be sold with chametz, since there is no prohibition against owning kitniyot. Additionally, kitniyot do not impact utensils and pots. This means that an Ashkenazi Jew may absolutely eat at a Sefardi Jew's home on Pesach where all of the pots have had contact with kitniyot. Also, kitniyot may be fed to pets, since there is no issur of hanaah (benefitting) from them. And when mixtures contain less than 50% kitniyot, they are in principle permissible when the majority consumer base is non-Ashkenazi (like in Israel).

Finally, since refraining from kitniyot is a minhag, there is a carveout for those with medical or nutritional needs and for babies. If you have any questions, feel free to consult the OU Pesach guide or email me or Rav Yosef!

Not eating kitniyot is just one way Ashkenazim are extra attentive and cautious on Pesach. But this is an overriding value that extends to Sefardim too. We all want to be very aware of where our food comes from so as to ensure we do not consume chametz. Doing so, brings the story of Pesach and God's mitzvah of only eating matzah to the forefronts of our minds and stomachs!

Fri, June 2 2023 13 Sivan 5783