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Really Wanting Rice

Thursday, March 28, 2013
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Dear Miriam,

How can I become Sephardic for the duration of Passover? I just really want to eat beans and rice this year!

Signed,
Really Wanting Rice


Dear Rice,

For those readers less familiar with the intricacies of how some Jews drive themselves crazy for Passover, here's the deal: kitniyot are a category of foods that Ashkenazim (Jews of Eastern Europe) don't eat during Passover even though they are not chametz (leavened foods that are mandated by Jewish law to be avoided during the holiday). This is the third time that kitniyot has come up as a topic in this column, and I am responsible for two of the five hits for kitniyot on the Exponent's website. You're welcome! 

The first time that I wrote about kitniyot was in reference to a question about serving a vegan seder guest. Many vegans, regardless of their family's origin, choose to eat these foods during the holiday because otherwise, frankly, there's not so much for them to eat. (The second time was a totally self-indulgant reference to how often people ask me about kitniyot. Case in point.) Some people will eat kitniyot at friends' homes but won't cook them themselves. Some people will eat things like peanut oil while avoiding actual peanuts. Some people are thrilled that this continued prohibition means that kosher for Passover soda contains real sugar and not corn syrup. Some people (myself included) acknowledge that this tradition makes zero sense but still can't seem to let go of it.

Passover is supposed to be a joyous occasion, and if avoiding kitniyot is an undue hardship or detracts from your ability to enjoy the holiday, that's a pretty good argument for adding some legumes into your Passover diet this year. But if, like so many of us, you enjoy the sport of discussing the ridiculousness of this ritual in light of modern food preparation, then maybe you should opt for continuing the tradition (both the one of avoiding the consumption of kitniyot and the one of discussing it at every. single. meal. during the holiday). 

I recently happened on a copy of a magazine put out by the Conservative Movement with the headline, "The Kitniyot Dilemma." (Indeed, this question is really only a dilemma for Conservative Jews, since most Orthodox Jews don't view the tradition as option, and most Reform Jews have long ago dispensed with the practice.) This is my favorite line in the article, "The main halakhic question is whether it is permissible to do away with a mistaken or foolish custom." Inherent in that sentence is the acknowledgement of this custom as foolish. Yet, so many of us choose to stick with it because it's part of our ethos of cooking on the holiday. You should feel free to decide which of your values are going to win out this year: that of family tradition or that of 21st century realism. Both make sense to me, and maybe one of these years, I'll join you for some rice.

Be well,
Miriam

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