Kitniyot Rule!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 “Jews of Eretz Yisrael”, 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 “Tur” who described it as a “superfluous stringency” and the “Beit Yosef” who added: “This custom is a foolish one”. “This was never the prevailing practice in Israel”, the rabbis wrote, indeed “a reality has never been created where all the people in Israel acted that way”. 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.

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Founder and Publisher of Jewlicious, David Abitbol lives in Jerusalem with his wife, newborn daughter and toddler son. Blogging as "ck" he's been blocked on twitter by the right and the left, so he's doing something right.


  • I think it would be very strange to have matza with hummus, although I hear it’s a real treat.
    Since Pesach is so much about tradition I don’t know if I really want to break the Kitniot ban. It would not be the same.

  • Just to clearify, the Kitniyos Defense League is AGAINST eating kitniyos on pesach and does not believe that embracing our minhagim hinders Jewish Unity. This site is a response to the Kitniyot Liberation Front.

  • “Those who question this practice and are lenient concerning it are demonstrating that they have neither fear of God nor fear of sin. They also display a flawed comprehension of the proper ways of Torah observance. Although there are some countries which have not followed this stringency, all of Germany, France, Russia, and Poland have accepted upon themselves and their descendants this wonderful stringency, which has a good reason, and one who deviates from it should be bitten by a snake.” (Aruch Hashulchan 453:4-5 on Kitniyot)

  • “Since Pesach is so much about tradition I don’t know if I really want to break the Kitniot ban. It would not be the same.”

    Is that really all it’s about? I thought it had something to do with liberation from slavery or something.

    how far back does our use of coconut macaroons and potato starch go? not very. Pesach has always been about culinary innovation as much as old tradition, that’s why it’s a combination of the official questions kids are made to ask, and all the new ones they are bringing back with them.

  • “an acknowledgment that tradition and halachah can evolve to take into account modern developments”

    No — not at all. This is a return to ancient law, not modern edvelopments. What it represents is proof that even in the Orthodox world, there are some who recognize that not every last piece of luggage can be shlepped from Poland. We are on a short ride, here, and most of us only have room for one bag in the overhead compartment.

    Now about the whole chicken as fleishik thing…

  • DK, you’ve got a point.
    Frankly speaking if we were all truly traditionalists ie. back to the Tanach, we’d become Karaites. However, they’ve developed their own humrot, and their own (abbreviated) oral law. The Karaites don’t believe that chicken is fleishik. But with them its’ no chulent/ tbeet/ dfina on shabbat (since they believe in no fire on shabbat, even if it started before), and no sex on shabbat. Same thing goes for the Samaritans. So you win some and you lose some, ha ha !
    I sincerely believe that in ideal world we should aim (through promotion) at 20 million traditional (not necessarily Orthodox) rabbinic Jews, 20 million Karaite Jews, and 20 million Samaritans. These are all Torah-based faiths.
    We would learn a lot from each other, and for all the various traditional streams out there, it would get non- affiliated people more excited/ curious about traditional Judaism, and become less keen on Reform and Conservative.
    If nothing else, it sure would confuse the heck out of the anti-Semites, ha ha !

  • It is unfortunate that for these “Neturei Kitniyos” (no definite relation to Neturei Karta, but you never know), minhag or even chumrah is more important than halacha. They will spare no effort to perpetuate galut, whether physical or spiritual. They’re simply missing the boat.

  • To Joe:

    The minhag has absolutely no basis to it at all. You should do your research before throwing fancy psaks at us. We should never forget
    that a minhag is there to protect a valid cause, however, these days there is no reason behind kitniyot. Not only that but the Neturei Kitniyos people remind of a funny story I read here