To Eat or Not to Eat: Kitnyot that is!

Every year at Passover the great debate rages: to eat kitniyot or not.  Kitniyot are a classification of food that Jews of Ashkenazi descent (European) do not eat and Sephardic  Jews (Mediterranean) do eat them.  For example, Ashkenazi Jews would not eat rice on Passover and yet, Jews from Morroco, Spain, or Turkey would absolutely eat rice on Passover.  Some Jews won’t eat corn or corn products like corn syrup (which is ubiquitously in almost everything processed here in the U.S.). Corn of course can be turned into corn meal.

Kitniyot is a classification of foods that includes grains and legumes such as rice, corn, soy beans, string beans, peas, lentils, mustard, sesame seeds and poppy seeds. Some forbid not only the grains and legumes but also any products derived from them  such as peanut oil or sesame oil!  The prohibition in the Torah for Passover forbids the eating of Chametz which comes from 5 different grains only: wheat, spelt, barley, shibbolet shu’al (two-rowed barley, according to Maimonides; oats according to Rashi) or rye.

A custom grew in the South of France in the 13th century to include a larger and larger group of grains as kitniyot.  Because people might get confused about what was permissible and what was not! Prohibiting kitniyot was a way to make sure that no one violated the rule of possessing chametz. The Shulchan Aruch, in Orach Chaim 453, defines kitniyot as those grains that can be cooked and baked in a fashion similar to chsmetz grains, yet are not halachically considered in the same category as chametz.

The Conservative Movement of Judaism several years ago felt that so many people were worrying about whether or not a product had kitniyot in it or something derivative of kitniyot that they did away with the category permitting kitniyot because people were losing sight of the holiday by being enslaved with the food prohibitions.  The point of Passover is to celebrate freedom!

I know when I lived in Israel for a year, Passover in 198,3 I attended a seder of distant relatives.  All were vegetarian and had been born in Israel.  Needless to say I was shocked to have been served rice because growing up I know we were not allowed to eat it.  I learned from that experience about kitniyot and the differences between Ashkenazic and Sephardic Jewish traditions.

So as Passover approaches you too will have to answer the big debate—kitniyot? Yes or No on Passover?

In either case, I wish you and yours a joyful, sweet and kosher Passover!

From Ganut l’Shevach: reflections on Passover and the Supreme Court

Read my latest blog post on Reform Judaism’s blog.

Happy Passover and Chag Sameach

Some are still Slaves

Wishing all a wonderful Pesach.  I hope the journey from slavery toward freedom brings you hope and renewal.   For some people in our world today they are slaves. They “belong” to another human being.  Slavery exists in 21st century sadly.  Passover comes to remind us that if one person is not free then we are all not free.  Don’t just say the words, “Avadeem Hayeenu”  Once we were slaves but now we are free-but imagine all those for whom slavery is their state of being.

Whether in war-torn Congo or south east Asia, or women enslaved in lives of prostitution in Europe or the sweat shops of downtown Los Angeles, we who have been born in freedom must be called to work for the true freedom of others.  

Happy Passover.

Passover Prep

Yesterday was Rosh Chodesh Nissan and Shabbat HaChodesh.  That means Passover is just two week’s away!  The food displays have been appearing for some while already. But now it is time to get serious about your Passover prep.  Where will you have seder? If you haven’t ever thought about hosting one perhaps this is the year!  Perhaps it is time to DIY! Do It Yourself.

It’s really not that hard-a nice dinner party!  If your apartment or condo doesn’t have room for a sit down dinner consider sitting on the floor-how authentic.  Much like the Israelites when they were in the desert for for forty years.  They observed the Passover meal by eating with their whole family but I hardly think it was around a formal dining table!

There are many Haggadot to choose from and many are easily downloaded from the internet.  Beware however because there are lots of Jews for Jesus or Messianic Jewish texts out there that try to trick you into thinking this is an authentic Haggadah.  Try or to find a haggadah or parts of a haggadah that you might want to use in your own seder.

The most important part of the seder is to tell the story.  Tell it your way.  Tell it with creativity.  Add your voice to our tradition. Unless your journey is part of the Passover party it isn’t complete.  Happy Passover and Happy Passover Prep!

7 or 8

Today is the last day of Pesach.  The Torah tells us to celebrate Passover for seven days.    Reform Jews and all Israeli Jews will observe the Biblical number of days.  Yet every year there are questions about the “correct” number of days to observe Passover.

Conservative and Orthodox Jews outside of Israel add an additional day.  So for them Passover is eight days.  Some say adding to the joy of the holiday for others adding to its burden.   The additional day in the Diaspora was added because it was the Sanhedrin that used to declare the new moon and it took a while for messengers to come from Jerusalem to announce it.  Hai Gaon mentions that Hillel b R. Yehuda was the first to fix the calendar. But this has come under some debate. Clearly by the time of Maimonides the calculated calendar terms were fixed.  Thus we could definitely predict when the holidays, new months and new years would begin.  And the actual need to add an additional day to ensure that the holiday was observed properly was no longer.  But some in the Diaspora continue out of custom to observe the eighth day of Passover and two days of Shavuot as well and an extra day at Sukkot.

So for those of you that will add an additional day tomorrow.  I will think of you when I taste my first chametz tonight.   Onward to Shavuot.

Waiting Jews


Rabbi Denise L. Eger

This week we celebrate the amazing festival of Passover!  The special Torah reading for this week’s Shabbat is Ex 33:12-34:26.   Each day of the festival there are special readings from Exodus and Leviticus and Numbers that focus on Passover, the paschal offering and the observance of Passover in the Bible and the journey of the children ofIsrael.

So often throughout history the Children of Israel’s journey to freedom has been called “wandering in the desert”.  This however doesn’t really describe at all what happened.  When I hear that phrase I imagine that the Israelites didn’t really know where they were going. I imagine moving aimlessly from place to place without purpose. But nothing could be farther from the truth of our sojourn in the desert.  We were headed to the Promised Land, the land God gave to our ancestors, Abraham and Sarah. On the journey we did lose our way.  But that was not a geographical phenomenon.  It was a spiritual crisis.  After receiving the Ten Commandments directly from God atMt.Sinai, the Israelites built the Golden Calf and let their fears rather than their faith guide them.  This was their crisis.  This was the moment of their wandering: wandering away from the covenant they had made with God.

The journey to the Promised Land took a long time -40 years not because the Israelites were wandering aimlessly but because God made us wait. The generation that lost its faith so easily had to pass and a new generation that didn’t know the slavery of Egypt had to be born and come into its own in order to cross into the Promised Land.  Thus we are not the wandering Jews-but the waiting Jews!

And yes we are still waiting in many ways.  We are waiting for the Messianic time. We are waiting for peace forIsrael and her neighbors. But that doesn’t mean we ought to simply wait twiddling our thumbs. Our covenant empowers us to action.  Our covenant with God, our partnership in perfecting the world is achieved through the ethical precepts of our tradition that God.    The reading for Shabbat of Passover is the reminder of God’s great compassion and capacity to forgive and the renewing of that covenant!

Moses is atopMt.Sinaiagain after the people worshipped at the Golden Calf and Moses smashed the first set of tablets.  On the Shabbat of Passover we read that God tells Moses to carve a second set of tablets that he will bring into the midst of the people ofIsraelagain.  And Moses is given an amazing privilege-God passes before him as Moses’ hides in the cleft of a rock.  God’s compassionate, glory and powerful radiance passes by Moses enveloping him. Moses asks forgiveness on behalf of the people and God grants it and make the covenant anew through Moses to the People!

These words of compassion and forgiveness are part of the Yom Kippur liturgy. So like the renewal and atonement and forgiveness we find on Yom Kippur, six months later on Passover we read the same passages in our Torah reading reminding us that this gift of forgiveness and renewal is still ours.

Pesach is a season of liberation and renewal and the Shabbat Torah reading for Passover echoes that idea because we read about the covenant being renewed even though we wandered away for a moment. But Passover also helps us keep our eyes on the prize-that we can journey from the narrowness of slavery to a broad plain of freedom and there find the Promised Land.  Patience matters.  Faith matters.  Covenant matters. These are the gifts of Passover.  Chag Sameach.