5th Passover Question: Why on this night no kitniyot?

April 5th, 2012 by Rav Shoshana

When I was a kid I remember my parents telling me I couldn’t have popcorn, ice cream, or soda on Passover. “I thought we just couldn’t have bread” my naive 10 year old  voice questioned. I didn’t understand: corn syrup? what does that have to do with Passover?

During the eight days of Passover in addition to prohibiting chametz, corn, rice, peanuts and legumes, known as kitniyot, are also prohibited at least for  Askenazi Jews (of Eastern European descent).  Sephardic Jews however did not abide by the same customs since rice and beans among others were the staple of their diets.  Why the difference?

It turns out much of it has to do with sociology of the respective geographic areas. Corn, rice, peanuts and legumes were often harvested along with wheat in the areas of Askenazi Jews. Kashrut for Passover was and is so strict that the rabbis, as they so often do, “built a fence “around the prohibition of  chametz on Passover. Since these items were grown and/or processed near wheat-chametz- the use of them during Passover was prohibited to avoid any confusion or cross-contamination. They also claimed that when cooked these items were puffed up and mimiked chametz.

I am a schizophrenic Jew this time of year. I am Ashkenzi on my mother’s side and one quarter Sephardic on my father’s side. With a strong cultural influence of Askenazi Jews we didn’t eat kitniyot at Passover.  But as I deepen my study and  understanding of Passover,  I struggle with the meaning of kitniyot.

On one hand I want to maintain the customs of our ancestors, to remember the strong connection to the land and the importance of maintaining a fence around our laws. On the other hand I want to insure the preservation of the most important aspect of Passover, namely not to eat chametz.

Each year I witness the dilution of stricture around eating chametz. Yes families gather around seder tables but it has become more of a social construct than a deeply religious one. Many Jews in today’s world no longer feel compelled to  keep customs and laws because their parents did, it has to have meaning for them. The image of a hurried Egyptian exit and matzah baking in the sun on one’s back is a visceral story that explains our chametz-less 8 days. But the meaning and context behind no popcorn, ice cream or soda is much less obvious. So I believe many Jews just throw in the towel on all the food restrictions and many don’t even rid their homes of chametz.

In today’s world rather than building a fence around the chametz, I want to make sure Jews in 2012 take seriously the ban on chametz. I am prepared to let the fence around corn, rice, peanuts and legumes go. Let them eat ice cream, but hold the cone, that is chametz!

What do you think?

2 Responses to “5th Passover Question: Why on this night no kitniyot?”

  1. April 19, 2012 at 6:46 am, Elliot Forchheimer said:

    What a great new website and blog. Did you know that the passover seder is the MOST observed of Jewish rituals (even more than Hanukah candlelighting)?


  2. April 16, 2018 at 7:21 am, Paula lustbader said:

    So proud of you and your dedication to our Jewish values.
    With love
    Your mother


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