Efrat - Rabbi Eases Restrictions of Kitniyot for Ashkenazi Jews

Published on: April 15th, 2011 at 10:56 AM
By:  Haaretz

Efrat - Trying to ease the life of Ashkenazi Jews who observe the dietary laws of the upcoming Passover holiday, an American-born Orthodox rabbi recently issued a halakhic ruling expanding the menu of permitted food products during the weeklong holiday.

According to Ashkenazi custom, the consumption of legumes and other non-wheat grains, known as kitniyot, during Passover is forbidden because of a resemblance to hametz, leavened grain, which is strictly prohibited on the holiday. Since most Israeli Jews who observe the holiday's dietary laws are of Sephardic descent, and thus do not have this custom, many kosher for Passover products in the country contain kitniyot, such as rice, corn and beans. In recent years, a growing number of Orthodox Jews - especially Western immigrants to Israel - have started rebelling against the kitniyot ban, arguing they are adapting to the Israel's mainstream practice because the ban is a custom and not law.

A few week's ago, Rabbi Zvi Leshem, of Efrat, issued a ruling that it is permissible to consume products and dishes containing kitniyot, as long as they do not constitute the main ingredient and are not directly recognizable. His decision will help those who do not want to entirely abandon the tradition of avoiding kitniyot but have difficulties finding certain items - such as oil, mayonnaise or chocolate spreads - that do not contain kitniyot in their ingredients.

"Some of those products that are labeled 'for those who eat kitniyot only' are permissible according to all opinions, since the ratio of kitniyot ingredients is less than 50 percent and they are therefore annulled in the majority of non-kitniyot ingredients," writes Leshem, 54, who was ordained by the Chief Rabbinate and holds a PhD in Jewish philosophy from Bar-Ilan University. "Since only products are forbidden in which kitniyot constitute the main ingredient, many oils, cookies and dairy products containing kitniyot are completely permissible for Ashkenazim." In addition, he permitted quinoa, the grain-like crop which is "a very new food" unknown to the sages who enacted the ban on kitniyot.

"It is a mitzvah [commandment] to publicize this decision, which is based upon the traditional Halachic methodology of the great authorities throughout the generations, and not upon looking for unnecessary stringencies," Leshem concludes.

"I tried to show that certain things that people think are prohibited are really permitted," Leshem, who lived in Cleveland and Indianapolis before he immigrated to Israel in 1979, told Anglo File this week. He said he used to avoid products labeled "for those who eat kitniyot only" for many years before looking into the matter.

"It is very misleading, certainly for Anglo olim [immigrants] who are not used to the whole issue. The obvious thing that most of them do is avoid anything that says kitniyot. But that's in many cases unnecessary."

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