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7 Nissan 5763 - April 9, 2003 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Opinion & Comment
The Problems of Legumes
Understanding the Gezeiras Kitniyos

by Rabbi Daniel Yaakov Travis

Chometz or Chumroh?

Mrs. Goldstein was cooking in the kitchen a few days before Pesach. Her mother-in-law, a guest for the chagim, happened to get a whiff of the delightful aroma of the festival cuisine, and nervously entered the kitchen. "Are you by any chance using . . . garlic?" she queried anxiously. The now apprehensive daughter-in-law, unsure of how to reply to this surprise interrogation, thought for a second and slowly nodded her head in the affirmative.

"Garlic!" she cried out, "Where I grew up garlic was chometz!"

What's wrong with using garlic on Pesach? One opinion maintains that garlic is commonly grown with wheat. Others suggest that small cloves of garlic grow wild as weeds in wheat fields. Since they could get mixed up with wheat, some have the minhag not to eat any garlic on Pesach. A third view proposes that the water used to make beer was used to irrigate garlic. Some poskim rule that anyone who follows this custom should continue doing so (Pri Megodim, Eishel Avrohom 464,1), while others imply that it has no basis in halochoh (Chayei Odom 127,7).

Although Mrs. Goldstein's reaction may have been slightly exaggerated, many Jewish households have an extensive inventory of foods that they do not consider to be kosher lePesach. Since many of these items do not contain even a trace of grain, why can't we eat them during the Yom Tov of Pesach? In order to understand these minhogim, let us first look into how this custom developed.

Production Lines

"Matzoh can only be made from wheat, barley, spelt, rye and oats . . . as opposed to rice and other grains that cannot become chometz" (Pesochim 35a). Many rishonim cite this mishnah as a proof that it is permitted to eat rice or any other edible seeds on Pesach (Rif, Rambam, Rosh, Rabbeinu Yeruchom, Shulchan Oruch). However a number of rishonim cite a minhag not to eat rice and other types of edible seeds or legumes, and this is the accepted Ashkenazi practice (Ramo 453,1).

Grains and legumes (defined as all other seeds that produce plants, as opposed to producing trees) share many similarities. The Rishonim write that during the course of their harvesting and production there are three possibilities for mix-ups:

The first is in the silo or wherever they are stored. Since both are very small and similar in size, shape and color, wheat could easily find its way into a pile of legumes without anyone noticing it. This problem is seriously compounded during drought years, when lack of rainfall causes wheat kernels to shrivel up and appear very much like other types of plants.

A second problem surfaces after the grains have already been ground into flour. After having lost their original form, the flour of grain and kitniyos may look almost identical. Therefore the minhag is to prohibit all beans and legumes which could be made into flour or bread, even if they are cooked whole.

A final problem arises after the flour has been kneaded and baked. Here the possibilities for confusion are much greater, and many Sephardim who do eat other forms of kitniyos, nonetheless do not eat bread made from them. Even though today's high-tech industrial procedures may lower the chances of such mix-ups taking place, nonetheless since this custom has been accepted, it is incumbent upon Ashkenazic Jews to follow it (Mishna Berurah and Biyur Halochoh 453,1).

Mustard Seed

"It is forbidden to put flour into mustard, and if it is added on Pesach it must be eaten immediately" (Pesochim 40b). Although the gemora permits the use of mustard itself on Pesach, some rishonim write that mustard seed is stored in piles and included in the gezeiras kitniyos (Hagohos Maimonios as cited by Ramo 464,1).

Later poskim note that mustard seed does not satisfy any of the reasons for the kitniyos decree. If so where did the custom not to eat mustard come from?

Mustard seed shares one characteristic with the other plants included in the gezeiroh, in that it grows in a pod (sharvit) with many seeds. Even though this is not one of the problematic attributes of kitniyos, because of this similarity to other types of forbidden kitniyos, the minhag is not to use it on Pesach (Taz 463,1; Graz 463,4).

From the above halochoh we see that even when the three reasons for kitniyos do not apply to a particular seed, this does not necessarily mean that the seed is not included in the prohibition of kitniyos. If so, where do we draw the line? In order to understand which products are included in the prohibition of kitniyos and which items are not, it is important to clarify a few issues.

Peanuts and Popcorn

Since kitniyos is a minhag, we must first establish what this custom encompasses. Many plants available today were unknown in the times of Chazal. HaRav Moshe Feinstein zt"l (Igros Moshe 3,63) and HaRav Tzvi Pesach Frank zt"l (Mikro Kodesh 2,60) write that unless there is a clear indication that the minhag was extended to include other items (i.e. people in your city are stringent not to eat a certain food because of kitniyos), only those items which were originally included in the custom (e.g. rice) are prohibited.

In this vein, Rav Moshe says that even though peanuts are used to make flour and are similar to other kitniyos, since peanuts were not available during the time of the rishonim they may be consumed on Pesach (in a place where the custom is to eat them). A number of rabbonim concurred with this ruling, including HaRav Chatzkel Abramsky zt"l. He held so strongly that they were permitted, that he would make sure to serve them to his guests on Pesach (Mikro Kodesh).

According to the above reason, corn should also be permitted, for although it fits the qualifications of other forbidden kitniyos, it was not known in the times of the Rishonim. However the Mishna Berurah forbids "Turkish Wheat" and some say that this refers to corn (453,4). Rav Moshe clarifies that even items which were not available during the time when the gezeira started can subsequently become forbidden, if a minhag develops not to use them.

However there is another, new problem with eating peanuts on Pesach. Rav Moshe's teshuvoh was written in 5726 (1966), almost forty years ago. Some of today's processed peanuts have flour added and are roasted in ovens which are not kosher lePesach. Although according to this reason unprocessed peanuts are permitted, some have a minhag not to eat any of them, and some say that even Rav Moshe would concur not to eat them (Mikro Kodesh ibid.).

Cottonseed Oil

Up until now we have discussed eating the legumes themselves on Pesach. What is the halochoh concerning a by-product or derivative of kitniyos?

The Ramo quotes the Terumas Hadeshen and Maharil who write that one should not burn oil from kitniyos on the table during Pesach, for it might splash onto the food (Darchei Moshe). This seems to imply that they held that the oil of kitniyos was also forbidden, and some poskim concur with this (Nishmas Odom 33).

This custom applies straightforwardly with regard to edible legumes such as peanuts or corn. Since the seed itself is forbidden, the derivatives take on the same halochoh. However since cottonseed is not itself edible, is its oil forbidden?

In the course of a responsa, the Maharil mentions that it is permitted to benefit from, (but not eat) the oil of kanabus possibly referring to hemp or another inedible plant (see Kilayim 5,8). Based on this, some poskim forbid the use of cottonseed oil on Pesach (see Minchas Yitzchok 4,114).

Even with the above considerations, there are still a number of reasons that cottonseed oil should not be included in the gezeira of kitniyos. Cottonseed is not edible. They are also not piled up, nor are they made into flour or bread. Furthermore they do not look like wheat at all, and therefore the problem of chometz getting mixed in should not apply. Many places in America are lenient regarding its use, while in Israel many places do not use cottonseed oil. The bottom line in all questions of kitniyos is that one must follow the minhag.

Potatoes and Coffee

Although today potatoes are on most people's Pesach diet, since they are used to make flour there is reason to argue that the gezeira of kitniyos should apply to them. Based on this, some poskim wanted to forbid eating potatoes on Pesach (Nishmas Odom 20). However this minhag was never accepted by most of Klal Yisroel, because they are not seeds, they are not small, and they were not forbidden in the times of the Rishonim.

Seeds are only considered to be legumes if they grow on vegetation or shrubbery. Since coffee and cocoa beans grow on trees, they are not included in the category of kitniyos (Sha'arei Teshuvoh 463,1). Therefore the poskim agree that one may consume these beverages on Pesach (Mishbatzots Zahav 453,1).

Even though the custom of Ashkenazim is to avoid eating legumes on Pesach, as mentioned earlier, kitniyos does not have the status of chometz, and a number of leniencies apply to it. Children and sick individuals may eat them on Pesach if they are important for their diet. So too, if kitniyos get mixed up with other food which is kosher lePesach, as long as there is a majority of kosher lePesach food, the mixture is permitted. Kitniyos can be put away and do not need to be sold, even if they got wet (Mishna Berurah 453:7,9,12).

Seeds of Redemption

Since the minhag not to eat kitniyos was accepted as a fence to the Torah prohibition against chometz, it is forbidden to disregard it. Any Ashkenazic Jew who does so "testifies upon himself that he does not have yiras Shomayim, and is not versed in the ways of the Torah (Oruch Hashulchon 453,4)."

Furthermore, since the minhag not to eat kitniyos is well established for hundreds of years, those communities who have accepted it should not be lenient regarding its observance. Anyone who eats kitniyos on Pesach has violated the Torah commandment of "Lo Sosur," you should not swerve from the words of the Sages (Sha'arei Teshuvoh 463,1).

As we look towards the final redemption, we must search for whatever catalysts we can find to hasten its arrival. Among these resources are the minhagim that we have observed for hundreds of years. These potent seeds can plant emunoh within our hearts, and raise us high above our enemies who surround us, even in the midst of these days of tribulations.

In the merit of distancing ourselves from chometz as Chazal commanded us, "May our eyes witness the merciful return to Zion."

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