Conservative Jews discuss advantages to eating kitniyot on Passover after new ruling

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By Jacqueline Hyman, opinion editor, @jacqbh58

Rice and legumes are among the foods Ashkenazi Jews have traditionally avoided during Passover.
Rice and legumes are among the foods Ashkenazi Jews have traditionally avoided during Passover. Photo illustration by Jacob Schaperow.

The Committee on Jewish Law and Standards, an authority in Conservative Judaism, voted in December 2015 that eating kitniyot during Passover is acceptable, according to a teshuvah, or responsum, by the Rabbinical Assembly.

Kitniyot are foods such as legumes, beans and rice which Ashkenazi Jews have long banned from meals during the eight-day holiday. The multi-century ban on kitniyot stemmed from a variety of reasons, including concerns that the foods might get mixed in with the prohibited grains that make up chametz, foods containing leavened flour.

“None of these reasons appear cogent, however, in the present age when we purchase our flours, rice and beans in discrete packages, well-marked as to their content, under governmental supervision,” the Rabbinical Assembly wrote. “In such a marketplace there should be no concern of confusing a permission of kitniyot with one of grains and it should be eminently possible to prohibit one while permitting the other.”

This year, American Jews are starting to decide whether they want to include kitniyot in their Passover diets or not.

Junior astronomy major Yoni Brande said he was not surprised at all about the ruling because Jews in Israel lifted these restrictions years ago.

“If someone wants to continue the tradition of not eating kitniyot, there’s no reason you can’t do that,” Brande said. “But I do think that any disagreement with the ruling comes from the same sort of reasoning that there’s a fine line between respecting existing Jewish tradition and Jewish law and keeping Judaism applicable to modern society.”

Although Brande did not go home for his family’s seder, he said he received an excited email from his mother announcing that they would have sushi this year instead of gefilte fish.

“I think having the access to stuff like peanut butter is really important in not just eating plain matzah for eight days,” said Brande, who is an Ometz coordinator.

Freshman IJ Wittenberg said the new ruling makes eating during Passover much less restrictive. Her mother also mentioned to her that eating sushi would be helpful this year.

However, Wittenberg said rice is not a huge staple in the U.S. so she doesn’t see it as an extremely necessary change.

“I think that it would make more sense in Asia where rice is one of the highest consumed grains,” Wittenberg said.

In 2014, Manischewitz launched a line of kosher for Passover kitniyot products, originally marketed toward Sephardic Jews, who have historically eaten kitniyot on Passover. Brande said he would be interested to see how the kosher for Passover market expands in coming years and whether people will wait for these products rather than simply buying a pound of rice at the grocery store.

“Maybe the Conservative population that is going to switch over isn’t large enough to drive any sort of market movement,” Brande said.

Wittenburg, a pescetarian, said the ruling will definitely give her, and people with other dietary restrictions, more flexible options during Passover.

“I just think even though I’m probably not going to be eating a lot of rice … it’ll probably make kashrut laws easier for vegetarians and vegans,” said Wittenberg.

Many Jews, including rabbis, believed the custom was outdated and support the ruling.

“The custom itself was not a wise custom to begin with, and in our day, when you have Jews of Ashkenazi descent married to Jews of Sephardic descent, it gets really hard to figure out what to do in your house,” said Rabbi Elliot Dorff, a theology professor at American Jewish University, in a Forward article.

Ometz is hosting a kosher for Passover dinner and a talk about the laws and customs surrounding kitniyot tonight at 6 p.m. at Maryland Hillel.

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