Thursday, April 21, 2016

Corn, Rice, Beans on Passover? -- new ruling from Committee on Jewish Laws and Standards

This is the note I sent to my congregation....

As we approach Passover, I wanted to offer a few thoughts about an opinion published by Conservative Judaism's Committee on Jewish Laws and Standards that you might have seen earlier this year.
 It has gotten a fair amount of news coverage (see, for example,   Our rabbinic intern, Philip Gibbs, who is the secretary of the Committee on Jewish Laws and Standards, taught about this opinion this past shabbat.  Here is my summary of the issue.  

The background: 
  • According to Jewish law, Jews should abstain from hametz (leavened products) on Passover. According to Jewish law, the only substances that can be hametz are wheat, barley, rye, oats, and spelt.  Thus, a product that has absolutely no wheat, barley, rye, oats, or spelt content cannot be hametz.
  • Ashkenazic Jews (Jews from Eastern and Central Europe) have had the practice for several hundred years to also abstain from other foods on Passover, like corn, rice, and beans and other legumes.  (Collectively, these additional foods are called kitniyot.)  Several reasons have been suggested for this practice, including that it is possible to make flour out of these substances and that they could have been stored together with hametz or inadvertently mixed with hametz.  These foods, however, have remained in a separate category from hametz.  (Whereas hametz is actually forbidden according to Jewish law, kitniyot are merely customarily not eaten by Ashkenazic Jews.)   In general, Sefardic and Mizrahi Jews (Jews who trace their ancestry from Spain, the Mediterranean region, and the Arab world) have not abstained from eating kitniyot on Passover.
  • More than 20 years ago, Masorti (Conservative) Judaism in Israel went on record declaring that Ashkenazic Jews need not abstain from eatingkitniyot anymore, in the interests of the unity of the Jewish community, and in light of the fact that the original reasons for abstaining from eating kitniyotwere questionable.  (The author of this opinion was Rabbi David Golinkin, who visited our community last year; see
  • This new opinion of the Committee on Jewish Laws and Standards (2016) essentially reiterates Rabbi Golinkin's opinion:  Ashkenazic Jews who want to follow the Sefardic practice of eating kitniyot on Passover should feel free to do so.  Ashkenazic Jews who want to continue to abstain from kitniyot on Passover are welcome to do so.


Questions that may be on your mind

What does Rabbi Scheinberg think about this ruling?

People who would like to follow this ruling should feel free to do so. (In fact, I have been telling this to people for many years, since the publication of Rabbi Golinkin's opinion about
kitniyot.)   I see this as a very individual decision that will be right for some people and not right for other people -- but there is no question that in my opinion, this decision is consistent with Jewish law and practice as understood in Conservative Judaism.

How will our synagogue policies change?

We do not plan for our synagogue policies to change. Currently, we do not serve
kitniyot at synagogue functions on Passover, and we will continue not to serve kitniyotat our synagogue, as there are many people from our synagogue (including Rabbi Scheinberg) who will continue to refrain from eating them.

If I want to start eating kitniyot on Passover, how can I go about this?

People who want to eat kitniyot on Passover according to the guidelines of the Committee on Jewish Laws and Standards will be eating unprocessed corn (i.e., fresh corn on the cob), rice, and fresh or dried beans.  Eating canned or other processed versions of these foods is not recommended because they can include actual hametz.  

There are increasing numbers of products available for sale in the United States that are labeled "Kosher for Passover for those who eat kitniyot."  People who would like to follow these new guidelines should feel welcome to eat products that are so labeled.  (People who want to adhere to the traditional abstention from kitniyot will not eat products that are labeled 'kosher for Passover for those who eat kitniyot.")

Below is the section from the responsum of the Committee on Jewish Laws and Standards which gives the practical guidelines. Click here to read the entire responsum:

In order to bring down the cost of making Pesah and support the healthier diet that is now becoming more common, and given the inapplicability today of the primary concerns that seem to have led to the custom of prohibiting kitniyot, and further, given our inclination in our day to present an accessible Judaism unencumbered by unneeded prohibitions, more easily able to participate in the culture that surrounds us, we are prepared to rely on the fundamental observance recorded in the Talmud and codes and permit the eating of kitniyot on Pesah.

Some Details of This Psak:
1) Fresh corn on the cob and fresh beans (like lima beans in their pods) may be purchased before and during Pesah, that is, treated like any other fresh vegetable.

2) Dried kitniyot (legumes, rice and corn) can be purchased bagged or in boxes and then sifted or sorted before Pesah. These should ideally not be purchased in bulk from bins because of the concern that the bin might previously have been used for hametz, and a few grains of hametz might be mixed in. In any case, one should inspect these before Pesah and discard any pieces of hametz. If one did not inspect the rice or dried beans before Pesah, one should remove pieces of hametz found in the package on Pesah, discarding those, and the kitniyot themselves remain permissible. [Note from Rabbi Scheinberg: enriched white rice can contain actual hametz. includes a list of rice products that are certified kosher for people who eat kitniyot.]

3) Kitniyot in cans may only be purchased with Pesah certification since the canning process has certain related hametz concerns, and may be purchased on Pesah.

4) Frozen raw kitniyot (corn, edamame [soy beans], etc.): One may purchase bags of frozen non-hekhshered kitniyot before Pesah provided that one can either absolutely determine that no shared equipment was used or one is careful to inspect the contents before Pesah and discard any pieces of חמץ (hametz). Even if one did not inspect the vegetables before Pesah, if one can remove pieces of חמץ (hametz) found in the package on Pesah, the vegetables themselves are permissible.

5) Processed foods, including tofu, although containing no listed hametz, continue to require Pesah certification due to the possibility of admixtures of hametz during production.

6) Even those who continue to observe the Ashkenazic custom of eschewing kitniyot during Pesah may eat from Pesah dishes, utensils and cooking vessels that have come into contact with kitniyot and may consume kitniyot derivatives like oil (מי קטניות).

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