In general, kitniot are those small (kitniot - from katan) seeds or beans which look a little like grains and which need to be cooked to be eaten. Though frequently translated as legumes, aside from peas and peanuts, they are NOT legumes. And some legumes, like alfalfa leaves which can be used for salad, ARE NOT kitniot. Legumes are plants whose root nodules make nitrogen. Since "teensy-weensies" or "tinies" are not translations that are very likely to make it into ordinary English parlance, the most appropriate translation for kitniot, it seems to me, is kitniot.At Pesach, all Jews are to refrain from the eating of chametz, (leaven) and the Torah is quite explicit as to which grains are to be included in this category. From the Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR):
"It is a mitzvah to abstain from eating leaven (Chametz) during the entire seven days of Pesach." By "chametz", the tradition means those grains from which matzah may be baked: wheat, barley, oats, rye, and spelt. No other foodstuffs are regarded as chametz.It has also become customary for Ashkenazi Jews to adhere to a prohibition on rice, corn, seeds and legumes in a somewhat misguided attempt (my opinion) to expand the observance of the festival and build fences around the Torah to impose safeguards for the public for their own chametz protection. In other words, let's assume that the people are so stupid as to not know what they are or are not eating, that they require salvation from the evil consumption. In a word, horseshit. More from Rabbi Israel:
By the 18th century a halachist like the Korban Nathaniel (you have never heard of him) writes that there is no need to outlaw these cooked products just because they may appear similar to other cooked products which are actually chametz. One may, for example, use flour made from lentils, because it cannot become chametz, and there is no need to worry that people will confuse it with other flour which is really chametz. However, Ashkenazic (though not Sephardic) Jews have accepted a great stringency regarding these products, despite the fact that they are not chametz, and despite the permissibility of these items documented by earlier sources. The reason for the prohibition is based on a gezeirah, a preventive decree, from Ashkenazic rabbinical authorities.The prohibition on kitnityot runs contrary to the opinions of every single Talmudic and Mishnaic sage with the exception of one, (R. Yochanan be Nuri, Pesahim 35a) and is in direct contradiction to the decision in the Babylonian Talmud. (Pesahim 114b) This responsa is from the Conservative rabbinate in Israel.
The familiar and relatively late explanation for this gezeirah goes exactly contrary to what the Korban Nathaniel says. The gezeirah was justified on the grounds that people can too easily confuse a product cooked with kitniyot, with a similar product cooked with one of the five grains, and if the kitniyot product is allowed, one may come to allow a grain product, which is really chametz, as well. Moreover, kitniyot are similar to the five grains in other ways too, including the fact that some people make bread out of kitniyot as they do from the five grains, and people who are not knowledgeable may end up making a mistake and eat real chametz.
This custom 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. As a result, R. Samuel of Falaise, one of the first to mention it, referred to it as a "mistaken custom" and R. Yerucham called it a "foolish custom".
This craziness has been perpetuated for centuries and has continued to this day. The reason that my Ashkenazi relatives in Poland ate potatoes instead of corn or rice at Pesach, is simply because of supply. Whoever heard of sushi in the shtetl? Rice and corn are foods that were unknown to my ancestors in the part of the world that they resided. When they did come in contact with these foreign substances, their rebbes reflexively banned them from consumption at Pesach as much out of ignorance as anything thing else. In my neighbourhood, which I have lovingly referred to as the "North Jewish Ghetto", the cost of observing the holiday in a kitniyot-free environment has become astronomical. It is not unheard of nor is it unusual to hear stories of families spending upwards of $2000.00 on Pesach preparations. The purchasing of products like kosher for Pesach Coke and ketchup (the high fructose corn syrup in these products has labelled them kitniyot!) has become a strange game of "Keeping as Kosher as the Steinbergs". There was even a midnight madness sale at our resident grocery store this past Saturday evening. The image of observant men and women fighting over the last box of matzah meal is one to behold. Once again from the Conservative responsa in Israel:
Therefore, the main halakhic question in this case is whether it is permissible to do away with a mistaken or foolish custom. Many rabbinic authorities have ruled that it is permitted (and perhaps even obligatory) to do away with this type of "foolish custom" (R. Abin in Yerushalmi Pesahim, Maimonides, the Rosh, the Ribash, and many others). Furthermore, there are many good reasons to do away with this "foolish custom": a) It detracts from the joy of the holiday by limiting the number of permitted foods; b) It causes exorbitant price rises, which result in "major financial loss" and, as is well known, "the Torah takes pity on the people of Israel's money"; c) It emphasizes the insignificant (legumes) and ignores the significant (hametz, which is forbidden from the five kinds of grain); d) It causes people to scoff at the commandments in general and at the prohibition of hametz in particular - if this custom has no purpose and is observed, then there is no reason to observe other commandments; e) Finally, it causes unnecessary divisions between Israel's different ethnic groups. On the other hand, there is only one reason to observe this custom: the desire to preserve an old custom. Obviously, this desire does not override all that was mentioned above. Therefore, both Ashkenazim and Sephardim are permitted to eat legumes and rice on Pesah without fear of transgressing any prohibition.It seems to me that the only reason to continue the practice of forbidding the consumption of kitniyot is tradition; Bubby didn't eat corn so we don't eat corn, and while I certainly think that this should always be a matter of personal conviction, I cannot abide. I need to feel that religious practice has some basis in logic and law in order for it to remain a religious practice in my world. The spirit and the celebration of Pesach is enhanced and maintained by the prohibition of the chametz. Anything else must be defined, in my opinion, as a religious fiction and cannot be taken seriously. My Passover includes rice and corn. I will give the final word to the CCAR.
We do not accept the orthodox argument that a customary observance, once widely adopted, can never be annulled. This notion is questionable, in general, as a matter of halakhah, especially when the observance is based upon a mistaken interpretation of the law. In our specific case, moreover, there is absolutely no evidence that this customary prohibition was ever ratified by rabbinic decree or accepted as binding in the form of a vow. Had a decree or a vow existed, after all, those authorities who criticized the practice down to the eighteenth century would never have spoken so bluntly against it. We think, rather, that some rabbis resort to these arguments in order to support practices and customs whose original purpose--if there ever was a legitimate original purpose--no longer holds. When a religious practice has outlived its purpose, when its retention is perceived by the community as unnecessary and burdensome, Reform Judaism affirms the right of the observant community to alter or annul that practice in favor of a new standard which better expresses our understanding of Torah and tradition and the religious sensibilities of our age.
Chag Sameach to all observe and may your time with family and friends be sweet and peaceful.