Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Kitniyot and Gerbrouchts...Oh You Ashkenazim!

Ashkenazi or Sephardi? Hungarian, Yekke (German), Lithuanian?

At no other time on the Jewish calendar is it so important to know your ancestry as it is on Passover. What one does or does not eat on Passover (beyond obvious chametz) is strongly dictated by ancestral customs.* Here’s how it matters:

Kitniyot (Legumes) - During the holiday of Passover, Ashkenazim follow a rabbinic decree to not eat foods containing kitniyot, such as rice, corn, soy beans, string beans, peas, lentils, peanuts, mustard, sesame seeds and poppy seeds. This rule was established because these products are often stored together with chametz grains, making it difficult to ensure that there is no chametz mixed with the products. Also, when kitniyot are ground into flour, the untrained eye could mistakenly think that this it is real flour, giving the impression that such flour is permitted on Passover. The decree only prohibits the eating of products containing kitniyot. They do not need to be sold with the chametz.

The Rabbinic injunction of not eating kitniyot was not accepted in Sephardic communities. However, while Sephardim may eat rice, beans, etc., the food must be thoroughly checked to make certain that it is not mixed with chametz.

Gebrouchts (Wet Matzah) - Another custom followed by Ashkenazic Jews from certain regions is not eating gebrouchts. Gebrouchts, which are foods prepared with matzah or matzah meal and mixed in liquid, are avoided for fear that additional fermentation may occur when the matzah and liquid are combined. Those who are stringent not to eat gebrouchts will therefore not eat matzah balls, matzah brie, matzah lasagna, etc.

This custom was broadly accepted in many Chassidic communities (Hungary, Galicia, Romania). In those communities where mitnagdim (non-Chassidic) were dominant (Lithuania, Germany), it was almost considered a mitzvah to eat gebrouchts food in order to make the point that it was permissible.

*Traditionally, one follows the customs of the paternal line. For example, if a Russian woman marries a German man, she follows his “Yekke” customs, as do the children. Those who cannot trace back their lineage to know their family customs should follow the customs of the community in which they live and/or consult their rabbi.

1 comment:

Carey said...

I appreciate the excellent way you provided the information. I do wonder, however, whether it is time to put some of these rather odd traditions aside.

You note that the rabbinic decree regarding Kitniyot because these products are often stored together with chametz grains, making it difficult to ensure that there is no chametz mixed with the products. Also, when kitniyot are ground into flour, the untrained eye could mistakenly think that this it is real flour, giving the impression that such flour is permitted on Passover.

While this might have been a useful decree several hundred years ago, does it make sense now?

Gebrouchts are avoided for fear that additional fermentation may occur when the matzah and liquid are combined.

These traditions were not agreed to when they started and are not agreed to now. We are telling people to adjust to decrees decreed by the equivalent of the municipal politicians of the day.

It is time to review. Like many Ashkenazis in Israel, I think the first place to start is Kitniyot.

Next year - Chicken, roast beef AND sushi!