What’s not kosher about the kitniyot ban

What’s not kosher about the kitniyot ban

Why is Pesach different from all other days?

On all other days, the children eat Post Fruity Pebbles (an 11-ounce box costs around $3); on Pesach mornings, they eat Lieber’s Crunchy Fruit Cereal (around $6 for a 5.5 ounce box).

On all other days, deli meats are slathered in French’s Classic Mustard (14 ounces, $2), or Shoprite Yellow Mustard (24 ounces for $1.20); on Pesach, it is Lieber’s Imitation Deli Mustard (8.5 ounces, running between $6 and $7, depending on the store).

To these two questions, substitute any of the following:

• Gefen’s Kosher for Passover Tomato Ketchup sells for around $5 for 28 ounces; a twin pack of Heinz Ketchup gives you a little under four times as much-101 ounces-for just one dollar more ($6).

• A 32-ounce jar of KP Glick’s Mayonnaise costs approximately $6. A 30-ounce jar of Hellman’s Real Mayonnaise runs $4.

• Gefen Pure Cottonseed Oil will cost around $7 for 48 ounces; the same amount of Wesson Vegetable Oil is only $3. For $8, you can buy 128 ounces of Crisco Oil.

• Six ounces of Mother’s Choice Olive Oil Cooking Spray sells for about $6.50; an 8-ounce can of Pam is only $3.80.

Depending on the choices you make, that is $36.50 versus $21.80, and this is just on six items, assuming that you buy only one of each, and not taking into account the additional fluid ounces in the non-Pesach list.

Of course, Post Fruity Pebbles, French’s Mustard, Heinz Ketchup, Hellman’s Mayonnaise, Wesson Vegetable Oil, and Pam spray are not “Kosher for Passover,” whereas the more expensive faux chametz products are Pesach-proper.

Except for one small detail as far as Ashkenazi Jews are concerned, however, there is no reason why any of these products should be banned from the Pesach kitchen. That detail is the presence in these items of kitniyot (rice, corn, soybeans, string beans, peas, lentils, peanuts, mustard, sesame and poppy seeds, and a whole lot more). Also included are products that look or act like kitniyot (safek kitniyot), are derived from kitniyot, including a class of products known as shemen kitniyot (most vegetable oils fall under this category). Depending on who is deciding what may be used on Pesach, items never known years ago (quinoa, for example, which most authorities now concede may be used on Pesach) are also included.

At one time, some authorities wanted to include potatoes in the kitniyot ban. The Chayei Adam, Rabbi Abraham Danzig, was the chief proponent of this, and there are still a few who cling to it. (Just think what Pesach would be like without potato starch.) The reason why most authorities rejected this addition was because the potato was unknown in Europe until it landed on Spanish and British shores late in the 16th century, and the rule supposedly is that we do not add to the kitniyot ban.

This, of course, begs the question about the corn that comes on a cob from America. It made its way to Europe before the potato, but only just. There is a scholarly debate about whether Columbus introduced to Spain after his first voyage or his second, but there is no doubt corn did not reach the Middle East until much later. Yet corn and its derivatives are among the banned-all because in the days of King James I, the word “corn” was a common synonym for a local district’s cereal crop (the Oxford dictionary gives English wheat and Scottish oats as examples of British “corn”).

Another problem is that the kitniyot in the products listed above are either admixtures of the item, or will be mixed in with something else. For example, Hellman’s mayonnaise contains soybean oil, eggs, and vinegar. Since the product is certified kosher, we can assume the vinegar is derived from a kosher source, and that the eggs passed muster as well.

That leaves the soybean oil, the major ingredient in the mayonnaise; it is shemen kitniyot. Adding some to a bowl of chopped-up tuna fish should not pose a problem on Pesach. As Rabbi Moses Isserles (the Rema) ruled in his gloss to Shulchan Aruch Orech Chayim 453.1, it is permissible for Ashkenazim to eat kitniyot that is mixed in with other foods; it just cannot be the main ingredient (the Mishneh Berurah’s commentary explains that this is a matter of “batel berov,” meaning that as long as the kitniyot does not make up the majority of the prepared food, there is no reason not to eat the food).

Then there is the whole rice thing. In Babylonian Talmud tractate Pesachim 35a, we are told that “Rabbi Yochanan ben Nuri prohibits rice” on Pesach, because he believes it to be a pure grain. In BT Pesachim 114b, however, we are told that “no one pays attention to this [ruling] of Rabbi Yochanan ben Nuri,” and that, in fact, one of the cooked dishes brought to the seder table was rice.

One of Rabbi Yochanan ben Nuri’s detractors was Rabbi Akiva, who in another context challenged a stringent and expensive ruling by this sage. Demanded Rabbi Akiva, “How long will you waste the money of Israel?” (See BT tractate B’chorot 40a.)

The kitniyot ban wastes the money of Israel. It is not seen anywhere until the early Middle Ages in Ashkenaz. When it was first introduced, it was referred to by some as a “minhag sh’tut,” a silly custom. One Ashkenazic detractor was Rabbi Samuel ben Solomon of Falaise. He was one of the tosafists, or commentators on the Talmud, and his commentaries are most prominent in BT Pesachim, the tractate dealing with the laws of Pesach. Presumably, if the ban on kitniyot stretched back to the rabbis of the talmudic age in the Land of Israel (a claim which is often heard, but for which no serious evidence exists), this tosafist would not have so casually dismissed it.

It is way past time for this artificial ban to be lifted. Pesach is expensive enough without it.