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By Rabbi Dovid Cohen, Administrative Rabbinic Coordinator
Q. We’re going to my daughter in Eretz Yisroel for Pesach, and she tells me that where she lives, they don’t have cottonseed oil or quinoa since they are kitnios. For us, those are staple foods on Pesach, so how can it be that they are kitnios?
A. It is generally accepted that the minhag to not eat kitnios includes rice, beans, peas, sesame seeds, corn, and mustard. However, there is growing debate about the status of many other foods including quinoa, amaranth, guar gum, certain oils (cottonseed oil, safflower oil, linseed/flaxseed oil), and to a lesser extent, peanuts, and string beans. For purposes of this discussion, we will assume that the oil extracted from a kitnios food is also forbidden.
The most basic reason for this difference of opinion is the following: many Rishonim were strongly opposed to the minhag of kitnios, and, although the custom was eventually accepted by Ashkenazim, Chok Yaakov (453:9) says that one should not add “other” foods to the minhag. That is to say that although Taz and Magen Avraham note that there is a concern of grains being mixed into anise, Rema (453:1) specifically notes that it is not kitnios. Chok Yaakov understands this to mean that even if a specific food meets the criteria to be considered kitnios, if for some reason it was not included during the initial period when the custom became established, that food remains permitted.
Variations of this position were also suggested by Divrei Yatziv (OC 196) and Iggeros Moshe (OC 3:63) to respectively explain why cottonseed oil and peanuts are permitted on Pesach. When the custom of kitnios began approximately 600 years ago, cottonseed was inedible, and peanuts were not yet available in Europe. Since these two foods were not included in the original minhag, they remain permitted even though they might otherwise have “qualified” as kitnios. The same logic is the basis for permitting quinoa, amaranth, chia seeds, guar gum, and similar foods. These foods either had not yet arrived in Europe when the minhag began or were not used for food purposes at that time, and since they were not originally included in the prohibition, they remain permitted. [In this context, it is worth noting that although “canola oil” first appeared on the market in the 1980s, in truth it is just a modified version of “rapeseed oil” which was used for hundreds of years in Europe, and which Avnei Nezer Avnei Nezer (373 & 533) and Maharsham (1:183) forbade as kitnios.] That is the position accepted by many American Poskim.
In contrast, many Israeli Poskim follow the lead of Rav Elyashiv in rejecting this position. They point to several foods – including corn, soy, and even peanuts noted above – which are widely considered kitnios for Pesach even though they were not available as food items when the minhag began. Clearly, the acceptance of these items as kitnios indicates that any food which meets the criteria of kitnios is forbidden, regardless of whether the originators of the custom were aware of it.
Those who accept the lenient position retort that even though a minhag may have “rules”, in essence a custom is based on what the Jewish community chooses to do, and, therefore, they may choose to include certain foods which might otherwise not be eligible for one reason or another. Thus, at some point in history the community chose to include corn, soy and peanuts into the “closed” minhag but has not made the same decision regarding quinoa, cottonseed oil and other foods.
This explains why different communities have different standards of which foods they consider kitnios, and each person should consult with their Rabbi regarding the practice they should follow.