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Frequently Asked Questions and Answers

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< Q6.6 TOC Q6.8 >

Question 6.7:
Why do Sephardim and Ashkenazim have different customs regarding permissible foods on Pesach (Passover)?

Answer:

Both agree that Chometz products are forbidden. Ashkenazi authorities additionally forbade kitniyos, a class of foods in some ways similar to chometz, but not classified as "chometz." Kitniyos refers to grains and grain like products such as rice, millet, beans, lentils, and others. Even though these items cannot become chometz, Ashkenazim do not eat them because they are easily confused with grains that can be become chometz and may even be mixed together with them. Sephardic Jews (Jews from primarily the Middle East and Northern Africa) generally do not refrain from eating kitniyos. Possession of kitniyos is permitted according to all customs.

The custom of avoiding kitnyos 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. The most common explanation appears to be that kitnyos grains may be ground and look like flour, and that the swell in contact with water. Thus, to avoid confusion, Ashkenazi Jews avoided them.

There is a long discussion of the origins of the customs and its specifics at http://www.tzemachdovid.org/klh/taubes.html.

For Ashkenazi Conservative Jews, the Conservative Movement has issued a tshuva stating that kitnyos may be eaten on Pesach. It can be found at http://www.jtsa.edu/org/masorti/msg00085.html, and states that the custom of kitnyos is in direct contradiction to an explicit decision in the Babylonian Talmud (Pesachim 114b), as well as the opinion of all the sages of the Mishna and Talmud except one (R. Yochanan ben Nuri, Pesachim 35a and parallels). The Tshuvah also claims that it 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!).


The FAQ is a collection of documents that is an attempt to answer questions that are continually asked on the soc.culture.jewish family of newsgroups. It was written by cooperating laypeople from the various Judaic movements. You should not make any assumption as to accuracy and/or authoritativeness of the answers provided herein. In all cases, it is always best to consult a competent authority--your local rabbi is a good place to start.

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