Kitniyot Not Okay: Rabbi Responds

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Editor’s Note: Last month, CJ published an article by Rabbi David Golinkin in which Rabbi Golinkin, president of the Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem, summarized a  rabbinic ruling stating that on Passover, Ashkenazim are permitted to eat beans, rice and other foods known as kitniyot, traditionally considered permissible only for Sephardic Jews. The article sparked a great deal of discussion among readers, many of whom asked their rabbis if they were indeed now permitted to eat kitniyot. Some rabbis took issue with the article, saying that the ruling in question was made by the Law Committee of the Rabbinic Assembly in Israel and was meant to apply only to Ashkenazim living in Israel. Rabbi Paul Plotkin was among those who objected to the article. Rabbi Plotkin chairs the Kashruth Committee of the Rabbinical Assembly’s Committee on Jewish Law and Standards. His response is below. As is customary, we recommend that if you seek guidance about this or any other issue of Jewish law you should consult your rabbi.

“The Kitniyot Dilemma” does a major disservice to observant Ashkenazi Jews living in the diaspora. While acknowledging the article was a “brief summary” of Rabbi Golinkin’s  Hebrew responsum, you neglected to point out that his responsum was very much directed to the Ashkenazi population of Israel only.

After many pages of detailed historical analysis of the development of the minhag, custom, of Ashkenazim refraining from kitniyot, and the many earlier authorities who railed  against it, refraining from kitniyot did indeed take hold as a widespread minhag for Ashkenazi Jews. Rabbi Golinkin’s conclusion of overturning the minhag was to establish a unified practice in the Jewish state, a majority Sephardic country with many families comprising both Sephardim and Ashkenazim.

He states, “we should emphasize verses like, ‘Who is like Your people Israel, one nation in the land,’ or ‘Gather us together from the four corners of the land.’ If it is our desire to be ‘one nation in the land,’ it is incumbent on us to begin the process of unifying the laws and customs. In 1950 the Chief Rabbinate of Israel issued some rulings regarding family laws for the purpose of unifying the people and they should continue such work…. The Chief Rabbinate of the army published an army prayer book with one nusach  to unify the IDF….”

This clearly is not as important a concern in the diaspora. Therefore our primary issue is the question of how  powerful is the obligation of a minhag on our community and what is the process of change when we do change  a custom. There is clearly a bias in our tradition to honor and maintain minhag. The  Talmud  argues for keeping minhag avoteinu beyadeinu (the custom of our fathers is in our hands) as the reason we still maintain the second day of Yom Tov in the diaspora.

The Committee on Jewish Law and Standards for some time has been deciding what to do about kitniyot in the diaspora and realizes that before we tackle this issue we have to address the above questions on when and how minhagim can change.  For the present there is no CJLS ruling that permits kitniyot for Ashkenazim in the diaspora, but we are exploring it further. As always, individuals such as vegetarians and vegans, or those with health concerns who struggle to maintain a proper diet during Passover, should consult with their Maarei d’atra who can address their specific concerns.