B. Shira Levine
Navigating new wilderness

Passover kashering liveblog part 1

I’m blogging my passover-kashering process — for an explanation of what this is and why, click here.

Part 1: Low-hanging bread

(Get it, low-hanging fruit?)

In past years, I’ve spent the few days before Passover scrambling like crazy — this year, I got started several weeks early knowing that I have three work trips between now and Passover.  I will probably still scramble, but at least I’m giving myself the illusion of preparation.

A month before Passover, we stopped bringing in any more chametz.  It’s somewhat easier this year because we have a gluten-free kid–(though a lot of gluten free products have oats!)

Then last Wednesday, I pulled all the obvious chametz products out of the cupboards and the pantry and put them on the counter.  So what products is the Levine household isolating?  Anything with wheat, oats, or barley on the ingredients list, plus flour and yeast.

Levine household nonperishable chametz 5778

More importantly, what are we not treating as chametz?

Hechsher?  Passover hechsher?  Currently we’re a dairy/parve only household, but we do not observe hechsher yet.  That doesn’t foreclose the possibility that I would observe hechsher for passover, though.  I like the “ham and matzah sandwich” concept – if someone doesn’t observe kashrut but observes passover, they might avoid bread during the holiday but why wouldn’t they continue eating ham (ham and cheese for that matter)?  I think it’s perfectly acceptable to be “more Passover observant” than you are “regular observant” but I don’t think we’re quite ready to limit ourselves to Passover hechshered items yet.  That said, I always make an investment in KFP products!

Kitniyot?  (rice, corn, legumes, etc.)  Kitniyot has always been a huge source of brain pain.  It’s an Ashkenazi-only prohibition of–as I understand–“stuff that could be made into matzah or be mistaken for or have been mixed with chametz, or were sometimes used to make bread.”  That includes stuff like corn, rice, legumes, mustard, sesame seeds, lentils, beans (like, ALL BEANS!), soy!, and sort of peanuts.  I could never fully shut off my incredulity here.  Mostly because … there is such a thing as passover cake and passover cookies that look waaaaay more like chametz than these things.  And non-kitniyot items are also used to make bread (potato flour).  So as my two-year-old would say, “what the heck?”

But I do enjoy a good “I don’t agree with this but I’m doing it anyway because it’s good to do what you’re told for no reason sometimes in respect of higher authority” – so I have historically avoided kitniyot, even as a vegetarian.  I am talking whole hog avoided it.  Read every single label, avoided any related ingredient.  Soy, soybean oil, corn syrup, canola oil, salad dressing with mustard, you name it.  One year I was stuck in drug store basements interviewing witnesses for the bulk of passover and all I ate was bags of almonds, dried apricots, and bottled frappucinos (which remarkably had no corn syrup).

When the subject of kitniyot comes up in conversation with Conservative Jewish friends, the opinions generally fall into one of three buckets – (1) Tradition: “we avoided it growing up, it feels wrong to eat it so I’m still not doing it!,” (2) The Sephardic connection: “My husband is Sephardic / we spent a year in Israel / Argentina/ whatever and I got used to eating it so I always do it” (3) The less-observant: “(shrug) eh, I never cared about that.”  What I don’t tend to hear much as a reason for people’s kitniyot choices is “The Conservative movement’s 2015 responsum.”  People know about it, but they’ll always throw it in and it doesn’t seem to influence them much, e.g. “I still can’t do it even though the Conservative movement says it’s ok!” or “I never do it and hey, it’s ok in Conservative movement now yay!”  Where we may see the ruling making a difference is in the next generation of Conservative Jews–perhaps more will observe the holiday if they’re only avoiding the five grains….

This year, I give up, not gonna even try to avoid kitniyot — and I personally do rely on (or at least take comfort in) that ruling.  I am vegetarian, I have kids who are also vegetarian, and the Conservative movement has accepted it.  Neither Michael nor I observed growing up, so we’re not attached to avoiding corn.  And Michael was a little boggled with me when we first lived together and I banished all the mustard and soy products.

So — I now have a bin of nonperishable chametz on my kitchen floor.  That’s something!  Stay tuned for my account of dropping a hot brick into a pot of boiling water and soaking pyrex in the bathtub.

About the Author
B. Shira Levine writes about Jewish spirituality and observance, parenting, intersectionality, and the U.S. and Atlanta Jewish communities. Views are her own and not those of her employer, synagogues, or any other organization.
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