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By Rabbi Dovid Cohen, Administrative Rabbinic Coordinator
Q. Why do some people only eat yoshon?
A. The Torah says that the five primary grains – wheat, rye, spelt, oat, and barley – can only be eaten if they have been in existence or at least planted, at the time when the Korban HaOmer is brought on the first day of Chol HaMoed Pesach. That means that grains which were planted after Pesach are “chodosh” (new) and cannot be eaten until Chol HaMoed of the next Pesach. Once that happens, those grains are now “yoshon” (old) and can be eaten.
Most of the earlier Poskim are of the opinion this mitzvah applies even in chutz la’aretz, and even if the grain grew in the field of a non-Jew. For hundreds of years, many shomer Shabbos Jews were not particular about this halacha, and Poskim suggested possible justifications for that practice. Thus, most of Klal Yisroel which chooses to be lenient is doing so based on precedent, while those who are machmir are following what appears to be the simple understanding of the halacha.
In the United States, rye and spelt are always yoshon, since they are planted in the fall and harvested after Pesach, which means that by the time you buy it, it has already been in existence for a Pesach. The same is true of “winter wheat”, which is what is used for producing crackers and other crunchy foods. But spring wheat and durum wheat, used respectively for breads (and other “fluffy” foods) and pasta, will be chodosh from late summer until Pesach. Similar dates apply for oats and barley. During those months, the people who only eat yoshon must find ingredients and finished products which are committed to being all yoshon.
The general rule is that if someone is shomer Shabbos, he can be trusted on kashrus (or other) issues, even if he is not personally machmir on that issue. Therefore, if someone who keeps kosher but is not careful to only eat yoshon, tells you that a food is yoshon, he is believed. However, this just means that we are confident the person will be truthful about his statements; it does not mean that he is knowledgeable. For example, if a person says that a stir-fried dish is yoshon but doesn’t know that soy sauce sometimes contains wheat, he is being honest that he thinks the food is yoshon, but he doesn’t actually know enough to make that statement. Furthermore, there are different standards regarding kashering equipment used for chodosh, and the bitul of chodosh into yoshon. Therefore, before trusting a person about a yoshon (or other) claim, you must verify that the person has all the necessary information to take a stand on the issue.
This article first appeared in the Let’s Talk Kashrus column, Yated Ne’eman, October 13 2023.