This article is an excerpt from Rabbi Melamed’s book “Pininei Halacha – Pesach”
The entire book (except for the last chapter, which is still being translated) can be found at:
Origins of the Ashkenazi Minhag
The type of chametz prohibited by the Torah is that which is produced from one of the five varieties of grain: wheat, barley, spelt, oats, and rye. Other species such as rice and millet, even if they are caused to rise, their fermentation is not the same as that of the five types of grain, and it is therefore permissible to eat them on Pesach. True, one of the Tanaim (Yochanan ben Nuri) was of the opinion that rice has the same status as the five types of grain, and is, in its leavened state, also forbidden by the Torah. But the rest of Chazal holds to the opinion that even if rice swells, it may be eaten on Pesach (Pesachim 35a). This was the practice followed by all of the great Tanaim and Amoraim. In fact, we are told that Rava would eat rice on the night of the seder (Ibid. 114b).
However, in the period of the Rishonim (about 700 years ago), the Jews of Ashkenaz (Germany) began to refrain from eatingkitniyot. Initially, only scattered communities observed this stringency, but within a few generations the minhag had spread to all Ashkenazi communities. Three principle reasons were given for this minhag. Firstly, kitniyot are cooked in the same manner as grains, in a pot, and we fear that if people cook rice on Pesach they will end up mistakenly cooking forbidden types of grain. Secondly, kitniyot are often made into flour in the same way that grains are, and if the unlearned populace see religious Jews cooking and baking foods with kitniyot flour, without worrying about leavening, they are liable to do the same with grain flour as well. The Amoraim of the Talmud did not consider this ground for concern, because in their day, the Jewish tradition was clear and established. However, the tribulations of the exile, and the scattering of Jewish communities to the four corners of the earth, gave rise to a fear that some Jews would be cut off from tradition and come to forgetwhat is forbidden and what is permitted. Thus, the eating of kitniyot on Pesach could cause them to err and eat forbidden grains without being careful about their leavening.
The third reason for prohibiting kitniyot stems from the fact that grain and kitniyot kernels are similar in appearance and are kept in the same storehouses for relatively long periods of time. It is therefore eminently possible that wheat or barley kernels would find their way into kitniyot, and when the kitniyot are cooked the grain will leaven. This concern still persists today, and, indeed, it is possible to find kernels of grain when checking kitniyot.
The fourth reason for forbidding kitniyot is that grain kernels can be found in kitniyot due to the common practice of crop rotation. Farmers often alternate the growth of grain and kitniyot crops in the same field for the benefit this brings to the soil, but kernels from the previous crop always remain in the field. For example, if a coriander or fenugreek crop is grown after a wheat crop, wheat will sprout among the coriander or fenugreek. Sometimes the number of wheat kernels that find their way into thekitniyot will exceed one in sixty. and not be annulled This problem especially exists when the kitniyot and grain kernels are similar in size.
The Sephardic Minhag
In the period of the Rishonim, all Sephardic communities would eat kitniyot and rice during Pesach, however, they were careful to check them well for forbidden grains. Indeed, Rav Yosef Karo writes (Beit Yosef 453) that nobody worries about “such things except for Ashkenazi Jews.”
But some leading Sephardic Achronim write that many pious Jews refrain from eating rice during Pesach because of a case in which some wheat was discovered in rice even after it had been checked a number of times (Pri Chadash, Chida). The Jews of Izmir have a custom to refrain from eating rice during Pesach (Lev Chaim 2:94), and the Jews of Morocco refrain from eating rice and other dry kitniyot during Pesach. The Ben Ish Chai (Shanah Alef, Parshat Tzav 41) writes that in Baghdad many ordinary Jews do not eat rice during Pesach, and those who do must check it first two or three times. Each person should continue the minhag of his ancestors. Where there is doubt, or difficulty in doing so, it is best to consult a rav.
Certain spices, such as cumin, turmeric, and fenugreek, often contain grains, and without thorough inspection, their consumption is forbidden.
Today, rice is stored in flour and semolina packing-houses – therefore people who eat rice during Pesach must buy packagesthat have special Pesach hashgacha, and then check the rice thoroughly three times. (Ama Dvar 1:62) .
Spouses with Conflicting Customs
A question that arises frequently these days, when marriages between Sephardic and Ashkenazi Jews are common, is what to do when one of the spouses in a couple is from a family that refrains from eating kitniyot on Pesach, while the other is from a family that permits kitniyot? Addressing a similar matter, one of the great Rishonim, Rav Shimon ben Tzemach Doran (Tashbetz 3:179), writes that they obviously cannot eat together at the same table while food permissible to one is forbidden to the other. Therefore, the wife must adopt her husband’s customs, for “a man’s wife is like his own body” (Brachot 24a). Should the husband die -if the wife has a son from him, she must keep her husband’s custom; if not, she reverts to the custom of her own family.
Rav Moshe Feinstein (Iggrot Moshe, Orach Chaim 1:158) adds that the wife’s status is similar to that of a person who moves to a place where the accepted custom is different from his own. If he intends to settle there, he must nullify his previous customs and accept the customs of his new location (based on Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 214:2). When a woman marries, it is as if she is moving permanently into her husband’s house, and she must therefore adopt his customs.
According to this, if an Ashkenazi woman marries a Sephardi man, she can eat kitniyot during Pesach. She need not performhatarat nedarim (releasing her from her former custom) because she is acting in accordance with the law that a woman adopts the customs of her husband. Nevertheless, some Poskim recommend that she officially release herself from her past abstention from kitniyot through hatarat nedarim.