In Canada, the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards for the Conservative movement has ruled that the custom of abstaining from kitniyot (legumes and rice) is no longer required.
This move is not new, and similar movements to end the restriction have gained traction in the Orthodox movement as well.
Winnipeg Free Press tells us about the recent ruling. Though the change may be welcomed by many, some Jews in the Conservative movement are still reluctant to accept it.
FOR centuries, Sephardic Jews, or Sephardim, who originated in Spain, developed their own specific religious customs and rulings, many not in accord with the practices of Ashkenazi Jews from Germany, Poland and other parts of Europe.
On Passover, for example (which began after sundown on April 10 and winds up April 18), Sephardim have been permitted to eat what is known in Hebrew as kitniyot, or legumes and rice. As someone of Ashkenazi heritage — and admittedly not a great fan of Passover’s seemingly arbitrary dietary regulations — this Sephardi custom has made sense to me. Why the Ashkenazi ban against chickpeas, beans and lentils? Why have these healthy (and trendy) foods been treated in the same manner as bread and grain products, which are not allowed to be eaten on Passover?
It took only 800 years, but 12 months ago there was a change in Passover policy that continues to cause a stir across the Jewish Diaspora. In a Teshuvah, or ruling, rabbis on the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards for the Conservative movement — the middle branch between Orthodox and Reform Judaism — in their wisdom decided that Conservative Ashkenazi Jews (of which there are many in Canada) were permitted to also eat legumes and rice on Passover, as Reform Jews have been allowed to do since the early 19th century. This follows a 1989 ruling on kitniyot that Conservative rabbis in Israel made specifically for Israeli Ashkenazi Jews.
As was explained by the esteemed Sephardic scholar and physician Moses ben Maimon or Maimonides (1135-1204), early rabbinical rulings deemed that: “The prohibition against chametz applies only to the five species of grain… However, kitniyot… rice, millet, beans, lentils and the like — do not become leavened. Even if one kneads rice flour or the like with boiling water and covers it with fabric until it rises like dough that has become leavened, it is permitted to be eaten. This is not leavening, but rather the decay (of the flour).”
As was Talmudic tradition, there was much heated debate about the laws governing Passover, like every other aspect of Judaism. At some point in the 1200s, Ashkenazi rabbis in France and Provence, perhaps to be different from Sephardim, outlawed legumes and rice on Passover. Their ruling took on a life of its own, spreading across the continent and the generations, yet not without criticism. According to Rabbi David Golinkin, a professor at the Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem, rabbis who questioned this decision referred to it as a “mistaken custom” or a “foolish custom.”
Nonetheless, obedient rabbis were forced to come up with some reason to justify the ban, and as Golinkin adds, they “invented at least 10 different explanations.” At the top of the list was the claim that average Jews, with a poor understanding of religious law, could not be trusted to distinguish between types of forbidden and permissible food products, (read more)