Posted by: michelle @ books my kids read | April 5, 2010

silly food rules

Springtime is Passover time, which has always been my favorite holiday. I actually got upset with my father years ago when he decided a family trip to DC should happen instead of our seder. This year really got me thinking a lot about rules and food – not necessarily together.

For those who don’t know, which I believe may be 1% of the people reading this blog, Passover is the Jewish holiday that celebrates and retells the story of the exodus from Egypt and from slavery, particularly so that the children learn the story and it gets passed from generation to generation. It begins with a seder meal where certain foods are eaten to remind us of the pain of slavery and the joy of freedom and then is followed by a week of making sure you remember the exodus by forbidding certain foods, namely bread and anything that makes bread. It is one of those holidays you think of fondly and then, by the end, your entire body is just craving for a big bowl of pasta.

Now I’m not meaning for this to be a lesson in Passover, but bear with me. Okay, so the big issue with Passover is that you are not supposed to eat chametz – wheat, barley, spelt, rye and oats. This makes sense to me. The deal of this is that when the Jews were leaving Egypt they had to flee and didn’t have time to let their bread rise so they had a flat cake – matzo – instead. Now, growing up, my family didn’t exactly follow these rules (my dad just didn’t eat bread and my mom ignored the whole thing), but as an adult I understand and respect them. So here is where it starts to get tricky. Wikipedia explains it perfectly:

Among Ashkenazi Jews, the custom during Passover is to refrain from not only products of the five grains but also kitniyot. Literally “small things,” kitniyot refers to other grains or legumes. Traditions of what is considered kitniyot vary from community to community but generally include rice, corn, lentils, and beans. Many include peanuts in this category as well. Many Sephardi Jews do not observe this prohibition.

So we’re Ashkenazi, but obviously we did not follow these rules in my household. I remember trying to avoid corn and corn syrup one Passover in college and failing miserably, but even then, I don’t think I understood why I was doing it. But now that I have been married to someone for a few years who does follow these, in my mind, silly rules, I am incredibly aware of them and truth be told, they annoy me. Don’t get me wrong, I think it is everyone’s personal decision to follow religious rules as they will. I am, after all, a reform Jew and as such, I look at the rules and I question them. At one point I was told that people didn’t eat corn during Passover because, back in the day, the bags of corn were next to the bags of barley and god forbid you purchased corn that was contaminated by barley. Okay, fine. Now even with that rule, can someone please explain to me how that extends to fresh corn still on the cob? Or green beans? My rabbi back in Kansas once explained kashrut and how he followed it in a way that totally makes sense to me – he explained that he followed laws that were actually in the torah. Most of the other rules, like kitniyot, come from the talmud which were discussions and when it came to food, they tried to put rules out there that were straightforward and had no gray zone. For example, according to my rabbi, it is kosher to eat a cheeseburger. It is not kosher to cook said burger in milk.

So back to some silliness…peanut butter. Now in my mind, there is no question, a peanut is a legume. Legumes are not kosher for pesach per the silly kitniyot rule. My father-in-law this year offered my daughter peanut butter and matzo, and when I was shocked, informed me that the rabbinic society has apparently approved peanut butter a few years ago. I actually found some interesting information here saying that peanuts and quinua (a grain in my mind just as evil as rice, if rice is evil) don’t fall under the kitniyot rule because they were not in common use in Europe when the custom began. WTF?!?

Are you confused yet? I am. Which is why I will continue to follow the basic rules and say that there is nothing wrong with any vegetable, I will not care if there is soybean oil in my salad dressing and I will happily eat peanut butter. I will also happily concede when my husband says that we can follow the more liberal reform movement and only follow 7 days of Passover. Tonight I happily had a nice plate of pasta.



  1. I am so with you on the ridiculousness of kitniyot. I grew up with it, but I married a lapsed Catholic & just the thought of trying to explain this to him made my head hurt. In a nice twist, apparently Ashkenazim in Israel have been given the thumbs-up for kitniyot, which is good enough for me:

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