In 1989 the Law Committee of the Rabbinical Assembly of Israel issued a responsum to the question Ashkenazi Jews ask every Passover: “Why are we not permitted to eat kitniyot (legumes), while Sephardic Jews are?” The Rabbinical Assembly concluded that this is a “mistaken custom” and that Ashkenazi Jews are permitted to consume kitniyot as well. This responsum technically only applies to people living in Israel. Ashkenazi Jews who live elsewhere, will need to clear this with their own rabbi if they would also like to change their family’s custom. Also this Passover season for the first time the Conservative movement has authorized Ashkenazi Jews to eat kitniyot.
If we go back to the source, the Torah has the following to say about chametz: First, we are told not to eat unleavened bread during the seven days of Passover, and to remove all leavened bread from our homes. Jews living in the diaspora added an additional day to make sure they complied with the observance of Passover on the right days of the Hebrew Calendar.
Seven days shall ye eat unleavened bread; howbeit the first day ye shall put away leaven out of your houses; for whosoever eateth leavened bread from the first day until the seventh day, that soul shall be cut off from Israel. (Exodus 12:15).
Then the Torah instructs us not to have any leavened bread on our property or temporary place of residence during the seven (or eight in the diaspora) days of Passover.
Seven days shall there be no leaven found in your houses; for whosoever eateth that which is leavened, that soul shall be cut off from the congregation of Israel, whether he be a sojourner, or one that is born in the land.
The significance of Passover is summarized by Moses in Exodus 13:3:
And Moses said unto the people: ‘Remember this day, in which ye came out from Egypt, out of the house of bondage; for by strength of hand the LORD brought you out from this place; there shall no leavened bread be eaten.’
The rabbis who wrote the Mishnah (10-220 CE) ruled that five types of grain were permitted for baking matzah. These are wheat, barley, spelt, rye, and oats. When these grains are mixed with water they ferment very quickly. They instructed that the dough must be mixed and baked in eighteen minutes or the matzah would not be considered “unleavened bread.” When analyzing rice and sesame seeds, these rabbis noted that when these were combined with water, they decayed, they did not ferment. Therefore, they were not considered chametz.
In the thirteenth century, the rabbis of Provence prohibited the consumption of rice and kitniyot during Passover. This custom spread throughout Europe. No clear reason for this new prohibition was ever provided. Some rabbis in other cities objected to this ruling, saying that it was a mistaken custom, a foolish custom, and an unnecessary stringency.
The question facing the rabbis today is, may they change a mistaken custom? They concluded that they may and they must. Doing away with this custom will return the focus of Passover to the original intent of the Torah. It will enhance the enjoyment of Passover by offering a greater variety of foods. The new ruling will make the celebration more affordable. One of the best results of this initiative is that it will lessen friction between the Ashkenazi and Sephardi Jews, who will finally be able to enjoy the same foods together at the Seder.
I am an “Ashkefardic” Jew, from a “mixed” family. The Passover battles of my grandparent’s generation are legendary. The preparations for the Seder always started with a fight, which wasn’t even about the relatives. The topic was the same every year: rice or potatoes. The end result was a lose-lose truce, neither rice nor potatoes. Matzah was the only starch served during the festive meal.
Thanks to this new ruling, there may be more shalom bayit, or peace in the home. Some of the kitniyot permitted by the Sephardic Passover Guide are “Anise, Beans, Black Eyed Peas, Buckwheat, Canola Oil, Caraway, Chickpeas, Confectioners’ sugar with corn starch, Coriander, Corn, Corn Syrup, Cumin, Fennel, Fenugreek, Flax Seeds, Hemp, Kasha, Lentils, Licorice, Millet, Mustard, Peanuts, Popcorn, Poppy Seeds, Rice, Sesame Seeds, Snow Peas, Soy Oil, Corn Oil, Soy, String Beans, Sunflower Seeds, Tofu (from soy).”
This is a wonderful development for vegetarians and vegans. For the uninitiated, here are some of the most beloved recipes with kitniyot for Passover.
In the Jewish communities of Sicily, Egypt, Turkey, and Greece fava beans ripened just as Passover was celebrated. It was traditional to include a dish with fava beans at the Seder.
Braised Artichokes with Fava Beans (Anjinara con Aves)
Adapted from The Sephardic Kitchen by Rabbi Robert Sternberg
- 8 artichokes
- 1 pound fava beans
- 1 lemon, juiced
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 1 tsp. sugar
- 4 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
- 1/4 cup fresh dill, minced
- Black pepper
- Place all the ingredients except the salt, pepper, and fresh dill in a large pot.
- Bring to a boil, and then reduce the heat to a simmer.
- Cover the pot and cook for 45 minutes.
- Season to taste with salt, pepper, and dill.
The Syrian Jewish community has a beautiful rice dish reserved for special occasions such as the Passover Seder. This dish is famous for the beautiful golden hue and rich aroma extracted from the saffron it is spiced with.
Saffron Rice (Riz w’Zafran)
Adapted from Aromas of Aleppo by Poopa Dweck
- 1 cup white rice
- 3 saffron threads
- 1 onion, chopped
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 1 tsp. salt
- 1 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
- Pinch of ground cardamom
- 1/2 cup toasted almond, pine nuts, or pistachios
- Heat the olive oil in a heavy pot.
- Add the onion, and sauté over medium heat until translucent.
- Pour 1 1/2 cups of cold water into the pot.
- Bring to a boil.
- Season with the saffron, cinnamon stick, salt, and cardamom.
- Add the rice and bring back to a boil.
- Lower the heat and allow to simmer for 30 minutes.
- Sprinkle with the toasted nuts when ready to serve.