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Drash Legumes

Webmaster Note: This D'var Halacha is from 1998 -
For a more recent November 2015 Rabbinical Law
Committee Teshuvah, see this page.

D'var Halachah:

Eating Kitniyot (Legumes) on Pesach by Rabbi David Golinkin

[From the editor: The following opinion, written by Rabbi David Golinkin and adopted by the Vaad Halacha of the Masorti movement's Rabbinical Assembly of Israel, is provided to illustrate the workings of the Halachic process in the context of Conservative Judaism and to enhance your understanding of the laws and customs of Passover. It may or may not be consistent with the views of Rabbi Seidel, the Mara D'Atra of our community, whom we recommend you consult for practical questions regarding Passover Kashrut or other Halachic matters.]

Question: In light of the ingathering of the exiles, would it be possible to eliminate the Ashkenazic custom of not eating legumes on Pesach?

Responsum:

1. In our opinion it is permitted (and perhaps even obligatory) to eliminate this custom. It is in direct contradiction to an explicit decision in the Babylonian Talmud (Pesachim 114b) and is also in contradiction to the opinion of all the sages of the Mishna and Talmud except one (R.Yochanan ben Nuri, Pesachim 35a and parallels). It also contradicts the theory and the practice of the Amoraim both in Babylonia and in Israel (Pesachim 114b and other sources), the Geonim (Sheiltot. Halakhot Pesukot,,Halaktiot Gedolot, etc.) and of most of the early medieval authorities in all countries (altogether more than 50 Rishonim!).

2. This custom is mentioned for the first time in France and Provence in the beginning of the thirteenth century by R. Asher of Lunel; R. Samuel of Falaise, and R. Peretz of Corbeil - from there it spread to various countries and the list of prohibited foods continued to expand. Nevertheless, the reason for the custom was unknown and as a result many sages invented at least eleven different explanations for the custom. As a result, R. Samuel of Falaise, one of the first to mention it, referred to it as a "mistaken custom" and R. Yerucham called it a "foolish custom."

3. Therefore, the main halachic question in this case is whether it is permissible to do away with a mistaken or foolish custom. Many rabbinic authorities have ruled that it is permitted (and perhaps even obligatory) to do away with this type of "foolish custom" (R. Abin in Yerushalmi Pesachim, Mamonides, the Rosh, the Ribash, and in any others). Furthermore, there are many good reasons to do away with this "foolish custom":

a. It detracts from the joy of the holiday by limiting the number of permitted foods.

b. It causes exorbitant price rises which result in "major financial loss" and, as is well-known, "The Torah takes pity on the people of Israel's money."

c. It emphasizes the insignificant (legumes) and ignores the significant (hametz which is forbidden from the five kinds of grain).

d. It causes people to scoff at the commandments in general and at the prohibition of hametz in particular - if this custom has no purpose and is observed, then there is no reason to observe other commandments.

e. Finally, it causes unnecessary divisions between Israel's different ethnic groups.

On the other hand, there is only one reason to observe this custom: the desire to preserve an old custom. Obviously, this desire does not override all that was mentioned above.

Therefore, both Ashkenazim and Sephardim are permitted to eat legumes and rice on Pesach without fear of transgressing any prohibition.

4. Undoubtedly, there will be Ashkenazim who will want to stick to the "custom of their ancestors" even though they know that it is permitted to eat legumes on Pesach. To them we recommend that they observe only the original custom of not eating rice and legumes but that they use oil from legumes and all the other foods "forbidden" over the years, such as peas, beans, garlic, mustard, sunflower seeds, peanuts, etc. Thus they will be able to eat hundreds of products which bear the label "Kosher for Pesach for those who eat legumes." This will make their lives easier and will add joy and pleasure to their observance of Pesach.

Displayed by Tifereth Israel Congregation, Washington, DC, USA. Phone (202) 882-1605

This page last updated March 23, 1998.

URL=http://www.tifereth-israel.org/legumes.html