Some Kitniyos Curiosities
Question #1: A certain rav told me that he was unhappy that some kosher for Pesach apple sauce products contain vitamin C, which he claims is kitniyos. But I see some reliable Ashkenazic hechsherim containing vitamin C. Does that rav have his facts wrong?
Question #2: My sister married a Sefardi, who eats rice on Pesach. Does this mean that I will be unable to eat in their house on Pesach, even if I avoid eating the kitniyos?
Question #3: I grew up in a Sefardi home where we ate kitniyos, but have kept the practice not to eat kitniyos since I married an Ashkenazi man. We will be visiting my parents for Pesach, who now have two sets of Pesach pots, one set that they keep kitniyos free to accommodate the Ashkenazi family members. May I help my mother cook kitniyos food on Yom Tov that I may not eat?
Although the Torah’s prohibition against eating, benefiting from, and owning chometz on Pesach applies only to leavened foods made from the five grains (wheat, barley, spelt, oats, and rye), Ashkenazic Jews and many Sefardim have accepted the practice of not eating rice and other grain-like products on Pesach, even when these foods are not one of the five grains. We refer to this as the prohibition against eating kitniyos.
The poskim provide several reasons for this custom, including:
(1) Chometz grains often are mixed into the kitniyos (Tur Orach Chayim 453; see Taz 453:1 and Mishnah Berurah 453:6).
(2) One can bake kitniyos varieties into a type of bread, or cook them into cereal, that might confuse unlettered people, leading them to think that one may eat chometz on Pesach (Taz 453:1, quoting Smak).
(3) Kitniyos varieties bear a physical resemblance to the five grains (Gra ad loc.).
Contemporary Kitniyos Question
A contemporary application that is germane to large-scale food production is the question whether products grown on a medium of soybeans, corn, or other kitniyos are prohibited as kitniyos or not. Some modern poskim refer to these products as “kitniyos shenishtanu,” kitniyos that have undergone a transformation, and therefore permit their use. According to this opinion, Vitamin C, sweeteners, enzymes, thickening agents such as xanthan gum, and a variety of other modern food production aids may be used in Pesach products, even though their major source is kitniyos.
The basis for this shaylah is a dispute among early poskim whether a prohibited substance that has completely transformed remains non-kosher. The Rosh (Berachos 6:35) quotes a dispute whether musk, a fragrance and spice derived from the gland of several different animals, is kosher or not. He cites Rabbeinu Yonah as permitting musk, even if it originated as a non-kosher item, because it has become a new substance and thus becomes permitted. Rabbeinu Yonah rallied support for his thesis from the halacha that, if meat or some other prohibited substance lands in honey, it eventually metamorphosizes into honey and becomes permitted. Rosh, after quoting Rabbeinu Yonah’s opinion, concludes by saying, “I think even his proof needs to be proved,” implying that, if the source of honey was a non-kosher item, the Rosh would consider it non-kosher. Nevertheless, the Rosh in a responsum (24:6) quotes Rabbeinu Yonah approvingly. Because this teshuvah is an interesting insight in the laws of Pesach, I quote it verbatim:
“I never saw anyone who prohibited using honey on Pesach out of concern that flour may be mixed in, because this is uncommon, and, if some mixed in before Pesach, it would be permitted. Furthermore, if we began prohibiting honey because of prohibited admixtures, then we must prohibit honey all year round, since some say that they add non-kosher meat that turns to honey. However, Rabbeinu Yonah wrote that, even if they added non-kosher meat, it is permitted to consume the honey, since the meat dissolves and becomes honey — we look at what it became.”
In this responsum, we see the Rosh favorably quoting Rabbeinu Yonah’s position that prohibited substances become permitted when they metamorphosize. Rabbeinu Yonah assumed that although honey has meat added to it, halachic practice still permits it. Thus, custom demonstrates that a transformed product is no longer viewed as its original source.
Although Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 467:8) permits honey purchased from a non-Jew on Pesach, he states that it is permitted, “because we do not assume that any problems occurred,” implying that he disagrees with Rabbeinu Yonah’s reason (Gra; Chok Yaakov). The Rama there prohibits this honey, so he certainly disputes Rabbeinu Yonah’s reason. This is further borne out by a ruling elsewhere in Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh Deah 114:12) where the Rama prohibits the use of saffron in places where wine or meat is added to it, even though it appears as pure saffron.
The Magen Avraham (216:3) cites proof against Rabbeinu Yonah from the Gemara (Bechoros 6b) that says it is a chiddush that the Torah permits milk, since it is formed from animal blood. Thus we see that had the Torah never permitted milk, we would consider it prohibited blood, despite its obvious physical change. Similarly, reasons Magen Avraham, musk should remain non-kosher despite its physical change, and also honey, or any other forbidden material that underwent a transformation.
Nevertheless, some poskim, including the Taz (Orach Chayim 216:2) and Elyah Rabbah (216:4), rule like Rabbeinu Yonah. How do they respond to Magen Avraham’s proof that milk would be prohibited as blood, despite its radical change, had the Torah not expressly permitted it?
Chok Yaakov (467:16) answers Magen Avraham’s question by pointing out that the Gemara’s question is whether the substance called “milk” is always non-kosher because milk originates as blood. Rabbeinu Yonah’s point is that a non-kosher substance that has transformed to a kosher substance is now treated as kosher.
As we mentioned before, although Shulchan Aruch, Rama, and Magen Avraham reject Rabbeinu Yonah’s approach permitting transformed substances, we find other later authorities permitting them. For example, Chasam Sofer (Shu’t Yoreh Deah #117) permits oil extracted from grape seeds retrieved from non-kosher wine because he considers the oil a new product. He bases his approach on the above-quoted Chok Yaakov, who permitted honey made from non-kosher substances.
Does this mean that the Chasam Sofer followed the analysis of the Chok Yaakov and completely rejected the decisions of Shulchan Aruch, Rama, and Magen Avraham? Not necessarily! Perhaps, he contends that Shulchan Aruch, Rama, and Magen Avraham reject Rabbeinu Yonah’s approach only when it comes to permitting something prohibited by the Torah, but would rely on it when it comes to rabbinic prohibitions, like stam yeinam.
This compromise position would diverge from the Taz and Chok Yaakov, who accepted Rabbeinu Yonah’s approach completely and permitted transformed substances, even when the potential prohibition was min haTorah (as did the Rosh in his Teshuvah).
Two later substantive halachic sources also permitted foods that transformed from rabbinically prohibited substances:
1. Rav Meir Arik permits drinking a coffee-type drink made from roasted dried grape seeds that were the byproducts of prohibited wine (Shu’t Imrei Yosher 2:140).
2. The Pri Megadim (Mishbetzos Zahav 216:2) implies that he would rely on Rabbeinu Yonah’s position when we are dealing with an issur derabbanan (although in Eishel Avraham [ad loc.] he implies that such a transformed substance is bateil in a mixture, but will maintain its prohibited identity if it was not bateil). The Mishnah Berurah (216:7) quotes the dispute among the poskim as to whether a transformed, prohibited substance becomes permitted. He then concludes that one may use musk as a flavoring agent, when it is less than one part in sixty in the final product. This demonstrates that he accepts the concept of “transformed food,” nishtanu, at least in regard to a rabbinic prohibition.
Many hechsherim permit use of kitniyos shenishtanu, reasoning that since the Mishnah Berurah permitted even a prohibited substance that has changed when its bitul is questionable, he would certainly permit kitniyos that changed, as this is a case that does not qualify even as a rabbinic prohibition. Upon this basis, many responsible hechsherim permit the use of enzymes, sweeteners, xanthan gum, and citric, ascorbic and erythorbic acid made from kitniyos.
Other contemporary poskim contend that although these products are kosher lepesach bedei’evid (after the fact), one should not lechatchilah arrange a hechsher upon this basis. Thus, the rav mentioned at the beginning of the article was upset that they relied lichatchilah on this lenience, feeling that it should be applied only bedei’evid.
BITUL OF KITNIYOS
There is another reason why these products may be eaten, even if one does not want to accept that kitniyos shenishtanu is permitted, or to permit it lichatchilah. The poskim dispute whether kitniyos prohibits other food in which it became mixed. Terumas HaDeshen (#113) prohibits eating food in which kitniyos became mixed. However, accepted practice is to follow the Rama (453:1) who permits it, even if the kitniyos percentage is substantive, as long as it is less than 50% (Chok Yaakov 453:6). Thus, even if we assume that a hechsher that permits kitniyos shenishtanu is mistaken, if one added kitniyos to one’s food by mistake, one may eat the resultant product. Many authorities rule that one may eat the finished product even if the kitniyos was added for flavor and even if added intentionally, provided it was added before Pesach (Shu’t Be’er Yitzchak #11). According to this approach, a sweetener made of kitniyos will not prohibit the final product, even if we assume that kitniyos shenishtanu is prohibited. Therefore, although the rav may be unhappy with Vitamin C derived originally from a kitniyos base as an ingredient in a Pesach product, one may certainly eat the final product.
This leads us directly to our second question above:
My sister married a Sefardi, who eats rice on Pesach. Does this mean that I will be unable to eat in their house on Pesach?
Although I have read responsa from contemporary Rabbonim requiring Ashkenazim to kasher pots used to cook kitniyos, this is by no means without question. As I mentioned above, kitniyos that fell by mistake into other Pesach-dik 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 in which such food had been cooked (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.
The last question raised above is:
“I grew up in a Sefardi home where we ate kitniyos, but have kept kitniyos, since I married an Ashkenazi man. We will be with my parents for Pesach, who now have two sets of Pesach pots, one set that they keep kitniyos free to accommodate the Ashkenazi family members. May I help my mother cook kitniyos food on Yom Tov that I may not eat?”
Although it should appear that there is no halachic issue here, there is indeed a discussion among poskim whether she may help her mother cook. Shu’t Zera Emes, authored by Rav Yishmael Cohen, an eighteenth century Italian posek of a community that did observe the prohibition of kitniyos, prohibits members of his community from cooking kitniyos for Sefardim who did not observe the custom. His reasoning is very instructive.
The Rama (527:20) quotes an early Ashkenazi posek, the Mahari Weil, who ruled that a person fasting on Yom Tov, perhaps because he had a bad dream, may not cook, either for himself or for someone else. The reasoning of the Mahari Weil is that cooking is actually prohibited on Yom Tov, just like every other melacha, and the Torah permits cooking and other food preparation only because Yom Tov is meant for enjoyment. But someone who is not eating on Yom Tov is treating the day as an other worldly day and therefore may not cook either for himself or for others.
Similarly, the Zera Emes reasons that someone who has accepted not to eat kitniyos may not cook them on Yom Tov, because as far as he is concerned, one may not eat these foods on Yom Tov. Once we have established that one may cook only if one may eat, the same logic dictates that one may cook only what one may eat. According to this line of reasoning, a cook who does not eat gebrochts may not cook gebrochst for a household that does.
However, there are grounds to be lenient and allow this woman to help her mother on Yom Tov, even with the kitniyos food. The Mishnah Berurah quotes several prominent poskim who dispute with Mahari Weil’s line of reasoning, contending that not being able to eat does not prohibit one from cooking on Yom Tov. Thus, a person who is fasting may cook, and certainly someone may cook food for other people, even if she does not eat it herself.
ARE WE FRUMMER?
One question often raised about kitniyos is:
If rice was kosher for Pesach in the days of Chazal, why must we be frumer than Chazal and prohibit what they permitted?
The Mordechai (Pesachim #588) raised this excellent question. He explains that in the days of Chazal, the general public was more knowledgeable and careful, and therefore there was no concern that someone would confuse kitniyos with chometz. Nowadays, however, we cannot allow room for error, since permitting rice and other kitniyos varieties may lead someone to a serious transgression.
The continuing prohibition against eating kitniyos applies because of the rule of al titosh Toras imecha, “do not forsake the teaching of your mother” (Mishlei 1:8); that is, customs accepted by the Jewish People (see Berachos 35b). In addition to keeping commandments of the Torah and the prohibitions instituted at the times of the Mishnah and Gemara, we are also required to observe those restrictions that Jewish communities accepted (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 214:2).
The Gemara (Berachos 35b) teaches that the pasuk (Mishlei 1:8) Listen my son …to the teaching of your mother refers to the practices accepted by the Jewish People. Just as a mother has an emotional, instinctive understanding of what is best for her children, Klal Yisroel inherently understands what is best for transmitting to its future generations the spirit of our mission in this world. Therefore, when Klal Yisroel, or a community of Klal Yisroel, adopts a minhag such as kitniyos, there is an inherent understanding of the need and value for this practice that transcends the more obvious reasons for customs. This is why practices such as kitniyos remain binding on the descendants of every member of a community who accepted it, even if its original rationale seems out of date. Wishing all a chag kosher vesomayach!