For the Love of Peas and Beans

This year, at Seder tables all over the world, a fifth question was asked. Should we eat Kitniyot?

Just this past December, the Rabbinical Assembly — an international group of rabbis within Conservative Judaism ruled that it is permitted to add rice, beans and corn and other “kitniyot” to the Passover table. For Ashkenazi Jews, it’s the first time in eight centuries that these foods are welcome during the holiday.

Sephardi Jews, those of Middle Eastern descent, have always been allowed to eat kitniyot. Due to the different hotter climate of where they were “born” the agriculture was sown and harvested differently. Food storage was not necessary in the same way and the harvest was twice a year. They never questioned whether or not the grains and beans might accidentally become mixed.

However, for Ashkenazim, the Jews of Eastern Europe, the rules of not eating chametz on Pesach have historically gone further. Jews of Eastern Europe descent have traditionally had to avoid corn, rice, peas, beans, peanuts, soybeans and chickpeas which are all categorized under the term of kitniyot.

This is not the first time that the concept of allowing kitniyot to be eaten by Ashkenazi Jews has arisen. In 2011, Rabbi Zvi Leshem, of Efrat gave a ruling that it is permissible to eat foods containing kitniyot as long as they are not the main ingredient. We can even look as far back as the 13th-century when Samuel b. Solomon of Falaise, considered it a “mistaken custom.”

However whichever side you follow, it is not as simple as whether or not to eat Kitniyot.

The concept of having to protect Ashkenazi culture leads us to question why we are protecting a culture that is alive and well.

Jewish ethnicity and religion are strongly interrelated, as Judaism is the traditional faith of the Jewish nation. Religious observance however, varies widely, from the very strictest of  Torah interpretation, to complete nonobservance. And then, there is tradition.

Tevye famously declares in Fiddler on the Roof “Tradition” and there is no doubt that our traditions, both family and faith are rooted deep within our psyche. But, they are just traditions, not laws and not our liberty. We choose to follow our traditions and we encourage our families and children to create their own new traditions because life itself is about creation.

There has long been the Jewish joke, take 2 Jews and you’ll get 3 opinions. The problem with the issue of kitniyot is that it is not about kitniyot. It is about those who do, and those who don’t. It is a separation, an apartheid within ourselves.

When we are still looked upon as different, do we really need to add fuel and argue about who is right? The tradition of eating or not eating kitniyot is exactly that – a tradition. And, depending on who you marry, what you believe or which rabbi you listen to, it is a tradition with an ability to flux and change.

In life we create our own reality, remembering our roots of the past and manifesting the future of our dreams. Judaism has always been about our growth through learning. That leads to a fair point, have we have learnt too much to remain stuck in the sands of our past?

Judaism has laws and traditions. As long as we continue to show respect to each other and to our evolving traditions there is no right or wrong. We are not talking about changing our laws or whether or not we are keeping mitzvot. Judaism is about learning, from the Torah, from our history and from each other.

We can keep our traditions and let others choose whether to follow them, or discover their own. We are one Jewish people celebrating Seder Night in millions of homes, all of us separate yet together. We have Four Questions that we read in the Haggadah on Seder Night. Should we eat Kitniyot is not one of them.

Am I suggesting you eat kitniyot, or abandon your traditions? That is up to you and your family to decide. I am just reminding you that we are talking about Pesach. We have just re-experienced our delivery from Pharaoh in Egypt.  Whether or not we choose to eat kitniyot, we left Egypt together. Surely it is more important that we celebrate how many of us have a Seder and observe Pesach in whatever form or tradition works for us?

Kitniyot? I don’t know —

I just escaped from Slavery.

About the Author
Abi Taylor-Abt is an outstanding Jewish Educator and Curriculum Developer who has worked in the field of Jewish Primary and Secondary Educational Curriculum Development for over twenty years. She is the author of Lessons in Jewish Learning - a grab and go curriculum for communities and Jewish schools. Originally from London, Abi spent time living in Israel, South Africa, England and the United States. After working in Boise, Idaho, Abi spent 5 years in Israel for the second time whilst her children served in the army. She is currently Director of Education for Yachad a combined educational endeavour between the conservative congregation of Beth Shalom and the reform community of Temple Emanu-El in Michigan, USA. A 2018 recipient of the Klein/Grinspoon Award for Excellence in Jewish Education, Abi is also awaiting the video version of her recent ELI Talk Detroit Speaker Fellowship.