Question #1: Is Cottonseed Oil Kitniyos?
I know that, in America, everyone uses cottonseed oil on Pesach. However, when I was in Israel for Pesach I was told that they don’t use cottonseed oil because it is kitniyos. Why is there a difference in practice?
Question #2: Lecithin in Pesach Products
When I was a child, it was common to find Pesachdik chocolates containing an ingredient called lecithin. Now I am told that lecithin is not Pesachdik. Do I need to do tshuva on all the lecithin that I consumed?
Question #3: Ascorbic Acid from Kitniyos
I have been told that there are reliable kosher-certifying agencies that allow the use of products that have a kitniyos base. I thought that all forms of kitniyos are prohibited on Pesach. Am I making a mistake?
Knows His Beans
Although the Torah’s prohibition against eating, benefiting from, and owning chometz on Pesach applies only to foods made from the five grains (wheat, barley, spelt, oats, and rye), Ashkenazic Jews and most North African and some other Sefardim have accepted the practice not to eat rice and other grain-like and leguminous foods on Pesach. This is referred to as the prohibition against eating kitniyos. Among the reason given for this custom are:
The possibility that chometz grains could easily become mixed into the kitniyos (Tur 453, see Taz 453:1 and Mishna Berura 453:6).
Kitniyos varieties could be ground into flour and baked into a type of bread, which can create confusion (Taz 453:1, quoting Smak).
There is no requirement to sell kitniyos and no prohibition in deriving benefit from them (Rama 453:1), as long as one does not eat the kitniyos. Therefore one may use soap or lotion made of kitniyos.
Spilled the Beans
Furthermore, if kitniyos became mixed into Pesachdik food, one is permitted to eat the food (Rama 453:1) provided that the kitniyos is not noticeable and it is less than half of the food item (Chayei Odom 127:1). If the kitniyos is noticeable, one should remove the kitniyos and may eat the rest (Chayei Odom 127:1). However, some authorities prohibit the product when the kitniyos was added for taste (Shu’t Avnei Nezer 373).
The prohibition against eating kitniyos is based on custom. In addition to keeping commandments of the Torah and the prohibitions instituted at the times of the Mishna and the Gemara, we are also required to observe those restrictions that were accepted by communities of the Jewish people. This is included in the concept of Al titosh toras imecha, “Do not forsake the Torah taught you by your mother” — that is, the customs accepted by the Jewish people. Thus, we find that some of the details of the rules of kitniyos vary from community to community, and what is prohibited as kitniyos in one community is permitted in another. In these situations, an item that is prohibited in one community because of kitniyos is permitted in a different community.
The Bean Counter
If someone placed kitniyos on my Pesachdik counter, may I still use it on Pesach?
Although I have read responsa from contemporary Rabbonim requiring Ashkenazim to kasher pots used to cook kitniyos, this is by no means obvious. As I mentioned above, kitniyos that fell by mistake into other Pesachdik food becomes bateil as long as the non-kitniyos food is the majority. Based on this, many authorities contend that Ashkenazim may cook in pots previously used for kitniyos since whatever kitniyos flavor transferred to food cooked in the pots will certainly be nullified (Shu’t Zera Emes 3:48). Others prohibit using pots that absorbed kitniyos, stating that the minhag is to not use either the kitniyos food or the pots (Shu’t Rav Pe’alim 3:30; Shu’t Maharam Shick, Orach Chayim #241). Still others follow a compromise position, ruling that one should not use the pots within 24 hours of cooking kitniyos, but permitting use of the pots after 24 hours without kashering (Kaf HaChayim 453:27).
By the way, many Sefardim do not eat kitniyos on Pesach, and many follow an approach that prohibits some kitniyos species. For example, most North African Sefardim (Moroccan, Algerian, Tunisian, and Egyptian) do not eat any kitniyos on Pesach, following the same custom as Ashkenazim; this was also the practice of many Turkish communities (Shu’t Lev Chayim 2:33). Although Iraqi communities usually ate kitniyos on Pesach, many families in Baghdad did not eat rice and most did not eat chickpeas (Rav Pe’alim 3:30). Similarly, the Chida reports that the Sefardim in Yerushalayim in his day did not eat rice.
Full of Beans
What species are included in the prohibition of kitniyos?
Rama (Chapter 464) prohibits the use of mustard on Pesach, although he states that anise and coriander are not kitniyos varieties (453:1). Taz (453:1) asks why mustard is treated more stringently than anise and coriander, since mustard is also not very similar to a grain. Taz explains that mustard is prohibited because its seeds grow on a stalk similar to the way grain grows. Thus, the prohibition of kitniyos includes items that grow similarly to the way grain grows. For this reason, Shu’t Avnei Nezer (#373) prohibits the use of rapeseed oil (canola oil is a variety of rapeseed oil) on Pesach, even though the raw rapeseed is not edible. However, Maharsham (1:183) ruled that rapeseed oil is not necessarily included in the prohibition of kitniyos and may be used in places where the custom is to permit its use. (Today, most communities treat canola oil as kitniyos. However, the predominant custom in South Africa is to not consider canola oil kitniyos on Pesach and permit it.)
It is interesting to note that several other items that we would consider staples for Pesach, such as coffee and potatoes, were involved in kitniyos controversies.
Although coffee is the product of a roasted bean, accepted practice is that it is not considered kitniyos since it is the product of a tree, and does not grow directly from the ground. Thus, it does not grow in a way at all similar to grains. Nevertheless, there were places where the custom was to prohibit the use of coffee on Pesach since the average person is not aware of the source of the coffee bean (Shaarei Tshuvah 453:1). Incidentally, one should be aware that coffee now requires proper kosher certification for Pesach. Although in the past, there were no chometz concerns involved in the production of coffee, because of changes in the mass production of coffee one should not use coffee that is not kosher for Passover by a reliable hashgacha.)
Why is potato starch not included in the prohibition of kitniyos?
Indeed, many poskim felt that potatoes and potato starch should be included in the prohibition of kitniyos on Pesach, and there were places where the accepted practice was to prohibit their use (Nishmas Odom Hilchos Pesach #20; Pri Megadim 453:1). Nevertheless, the prevalent custom is to permit the use of potatoes on Pesach (Igros Moshe 3:63). Rav Moshe explains that although some of the reasons that apply to kitniyos apply to potatoes, the prohibition was never extended onto potatoes, probably because it would have created tremendous difficulty.
Some have advocated the production of “shmura popcorn” for Pesach. Although corn is generally assumed to be a variety of kitniyos, the rationale to permit “Pesachdik” popcorn is that one need not treat kitniyos more strictly than one would treat wheat and the other potentially-chometz grains themselves. Thus, since we all eat wheat products on Pesach in the form of shmura matzoh, why can’t one produce “Pesachdik” popcorn? One would carefully check the kernels that they are not accompanied by grain, and then pop the kernels within eighteen minutes from the time that they come in contact with water. This is very easy to do since popcorn does not usually come into contact with water.
Indeed, according to most poskim there would be no problem with making kosher for Pesach popcorn (Chayei Odom 127:1; Rav Shulchan Aruch 453:5). However, the custom is to follow the opinions that prohibit producing products for Pesach consumption out of kitniyos in this fashion. The reason we are stringent is that since people know that kitniyos is not chometz, once people begin making a kitniyos product of any type for Pesach, the standards will not be maintained. Thus, some poskim contend that the prohibition against eating kitniyos on Pesach includes producing kitniyos in any method whatsoever (Shu’t Maamar Mordechai #32).
Rav Pesach Frank (Sefer Mikrai Kodesh, Hilchos Pesach vol. 2 pg. 206) permits the use of cottonseed oil on Pesach, and quotes that Rav Chayim Brisker permitted its use. Cottonseed is not a food at all and also does not grow in any way similar to grains, unlike canola that grows similar to the way grains grow. However, Dayan Weiss writes that he is uncertain whether cottonseed oil may be used on Pesach. He cites sources that the prohibition against kitniyos includes any item stored the way grain is stored and forbids eating any seeds, grains, or anything derived from them (Shu’t Minchas Yitzchok 3:138:2 and 4:114:3). As a result, many hechsherim in Eretz Yisroel, for example, the Eidah HaChareidis, treat cottonseed oil as kitniyos.
Lecithin and Vegetable Oils
There were poskim who permitted the use of oils derived from kitniyos sources (Shu’t Maharsham 1:183; Marcheshes). Upon this basis, many communities permitted the use of vegetable oils, lecithin (usually a soy-based product) and other items on Pesach. However, today the accepted practice is not to use these items on Pesach.
A contemporary shaylah is the usage of products that are grown on a medium of soybeans or other kitniyos. Some modern poskim refer to these products as “kitniyos shenishtaneh” or kitniyos that has undergone a transformation. The discussion revolves around a dispute among early poskim whether a prohibited substance that has completely transformed is still considered non-kosher (see Rosh to Berachos=). Based on the ruling of Mishna Berura (216:7), some halachic organizations permit the use of enzymes and other raw materials that are grown on products that are considered kitniyos. Other poskim contend that although these products may be considered kosher lePesach after the fact, one should not arrange a hechsher upon this basis.
Thus, we see that many of the details of the halachos of observance of kitniyos are dependent on local custom. Indeed, one will find discrepancy in practice even among communities that are following halacha fully.