During Passover, observant Jews around the world refrain from eating or even possessing leavened bread products. This commemorates that time we were high-tailing it out of Egypt and Pharaoh and his men were on our asses, so much so that in baking bread, we didn’t even have time to let the dough rise and we ended up with these matzah like things. This tradition had evolved to the point where today most ashkenazic Jews also include in their list of prohibited for Passover consumption any food considered a legume, or as the category is know, kitniyot. Kitniyot includes things like chick peas, sesame seeds, corn and even rice. Sephardic Jews have always been able to eat these products. The ban on kitniyot had something to do with the way fields were cultivated and crops were rotated back in Ye Olde Europe, such that a crop of kitniyot may have contained wheat. Nowadays this is no longer the case, but the tradition persists amongst the bulk of ashkenazic Jewry.
Or does it? The voices clamoring for the end of this outmoded tradition grow louder by the day. I was recently made aware of a blog dedicated solely to this topic called The Kitniyos Defense League. They believe that the existence of radically different dietary laws amongst different groups of Jews is an impediment to Jewish unity, and besides, the restriction against kitniyot is just, well, baseless.
Hot off the presses too is this report from Ynet about a ruling called revolutionary. For the first time ever, an Orthodox Beit Din (religious court) has ruled that ashkenazic Jews residing in Israel may in fact consume kitniyot on Passover.
In a ruling that was published a few days ago, the rabbis of the institute, David Bar-Hayim, Yehoshua Buch, and Chaim Wasserman, claim that citizens of Israel are neither Ashkenazim or Sephardim (Jews of Spanish or North African descent), rather they are â€œJews of Eretz Yisraelâ€, and therefore they should abide by the custom of the land and not by former customs… In the beginning of the ruling the rabbis quote three medieval commentators who wrote against the custom, such as the â€œTurâ€ who described it as a â€œsuperfluous stringencyâ€ and the â€œBeit Yosefâ€ who added: â€œThis custom is a foolish oneâ€. â€œThis was never the prevailing practice in Israelâ€, the rabbis wrote, indeed â€œa reality has never been created where all the people in Israel acted that wayâ€. According to their claim, if this had been the case – then Sephardim and Yemenite Jews would have also adopted the prohibition.
Granted, most Rabbis interviewed for this story didn’t agree with the ruling but this ruling represents an important crack in the wall, an acknowledgment that tradition and halachah can evolve to take into account modern developments, and that such acknowledgment ought not pose a threat to the continued viability and existence of a strong and vibrant Jewish religion.
So good, soon Ashkenazic Jews will be able to eat rice on Passover. Now Rabbis, can we get some work done on that whole Agunah thing?
Y’all have a happy and kosher Passover.