I am obsessed with kitniyot. It is probably the one thing I dwell on most regarding Passover. Forget the Exodus and slavery, ignore the ten plagues, disregard Moses and Pharaoh, no - what preoccupies me about Passover is kitniyot. Kitniyot, often translated as legumes, are all those things that aren’t Chametz, or leavened, but are still forbidden on Passover to Ashkenazi Jews. Rice, beans, alfalfa, mustard, even corn make the list. I could (and will on Shabbat morning) go into a long explanation here about why they are forbidden, but really when it comes down to it, it does not matter. In fact, the more explanations we try to use to justify why my Sephardic neighbors can enjoy peanut butter on Pesach and I cannot, the more it becomes clear that there really is no basis for it other than… minhag ovoteinu b’yadeinu, or ‘the custom of our ancestors is ours’, or… ‘it’s the way we have always done things.’
It was with great surprise that I noticed that the Rabbinical Assembly’s committee on Jewish Law and Standards just voted on a responsa allowing for the consumption of kitniyot by Ashkenazi Jews on Passover. I was not as surprised about the publication of the response as much as the fanfare it has garnered on social media. Conservative Jews all over the United States are clamoring to hear from their rabbis if they can finally serve green beans at the Seder.
Many compelling reasons are given in the response for lifting the ban on kitniyot: allowing for more enjoyment of the holiday, making healthier food alternatives available, and bringing us more in line with a whole other group of Jews. There may be Conservative Jews from whom this is indeed an important rabbinic declaration.
Sadly, and I am sure with much consternation for members of my shul, I don’t think we are ready to start serving arroz y frijoles at the Seder. When a custom has become so entrenched, such a significant part of the holiday observance, it is tough to dismiss. Worse, we risk a slippery slope of dismissing other Jewish customs that have real significance. We have lived without kitynot for the week of Passover before and we can continue to live without them in the future. Kitniyot are one of those things that I often malign about our tradition while at the same time hold to steadfastly. In addition to the responsa permitting their consumption there was another response written alongside it which upholds our current ban. For me, it’s just a week without hummus, a holiday without sushi, and a house without peas.
There are two articles that I want to bring to your attention. One is an article in The Forward, an online Jewish newspaper, and the other is a piece that was written as a sermon given by the late Rabbi Dick Israel. The Forward article is the one everyone is talking about, and the piece from Rabbi Israel is the best explanation of kitniyot I have ever read. Enjoy, and if you want to hear more about the ins and outs of kitniyot, pop by shul on Shabbat for what I hope is a lively discussion on the topic.
Rabbi Bradley Tecktiel has been Midbar Kodesh Temple's spiritual leader since August 2008. Rabbi Tecktiel was ordained at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America in May of 1996. He holds two Bachelor of Arts degrees, one from List College and one from Columbia University. He also holds a Masters of Arts from the Jewish Theological Seminary.
You can follow him on Twitter @RabbiMKT