The Essence of Leavening
The Torah (Shemot 13) tells us regarding the holiday of Pesach: “Matzot shall be eaten for seven days; neither leaven nor sourdough shall be seen in all of your borders.” The leaven that the Torah prohibits is produced by the combination of grain-flour and water remaining in this state for a long enough period of time; this causes the internal composition of the flour to leaven (rise). From the moment the mixture begins to leaven it is considered “Chametz” which is prohibited for consumption or benefit on Pesach and it is also prohibited for a Jew to retain Chametz in his property on Pesach.
Rice and all other legumes, including peas and beans, are permitted on Pesach, for the prohibition of Chametz only applies to grains and legumes are not classified as “grains”. One must nevertheless take care to check the grains of rice well to make sure that no kernels of wheat or barley are mixed inside, for it is fairly common that in some places where rice is grown or packaged, other grains are also grown or packaged in close proximity as well and some kernels of these grains can easily become mixed into the rice and indeed make one’s entire dish prohibited for consumption (for even one tiny crumb of Chametz can prohibit a large pot of food). Thus, it is customary to check through rice three times before Pesach with all due concentration and seriousness, at a time when small children are not present to disrupt the individual checking.
The Custom of Ashkenazi Jewry and Some Sephardic Communities
Due to fear that kernels of various grains may have become mixed into the legumes, Ashkenazim customarily prohibit the consumption of legumes on Pesach. Indeed, the greatest Ashkenazi authorities enacted that it is completely prohibited to eat any legumes on Pesach. However, this prohibition was not accepted at all by most Sephardic and Middle Eastern communities. A Sephardic individual should not act stringently regarding this matter for several reasons.
However, there are several G-d-fearing Sephardic communities who are stringent and customarily abstain from eating rice on Pesach. This is especially common among Moroccan and other North African communities. However, even they are customarily stringent only with regards to rice, but they do eat other forms of legumes. Some customarily abstain from eating chick peas on Pesach as well.
Maran zt”l and Harav Unterman zt”l
Before Maran Rabbeinu Ovadia Yosef zt”l assumed the position of Chief Rabbi of Tel Aviv, the rabbinate would publish a Pesach Guide for the residents of the city which stated, “Legumes are forbidden for consumption on Pesach; however, Sephardic Jews customarily act leniently in this regard.” In the year 5730 (1970) when Maran zt”l served as the Chief Rabbi of the city, he pointed out to Hagaon Harav Isser Yehuda Unterman zt”l, who served as the Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Tel Aviv and later went on to serve as Chief Rabbi of Israel, that this statement in the guide was flawed since legumes are permissible on Pesach! Thus, the statement was changed to read, “Legumes are permissible for consumption on Pesach; however, Ashkenazi Jews customarily act stringently in this regard.” There is a clear halachic ramification regarding this statement as even Ashkenazim may retain possession of legumes on Pesach. For instance, if an Ashkenazi couple has an infant who drinks baby formula which contain legume ingredients or derivatives, it is completely permissible for them to continue using the formula on Pesach, as long as they do so carefully and with specific utensils and bottles designated for the baby. However, there is no room to claim that legumes are completely forbidden on Pesach.
The Issue This Year
This year, 5779, there is an additional question regarding Kitniyot on Pesach and that is because the Seventh Day of Pesach (the last day of Pesach in Israel) falls out on a Friday. The question therefore becomes whether or not Ashkenazim (who customarily do not consume Kitniyot on Pesach) may cook Kitniyot on Chol Hamo’ed Pesach so that they will have what to eat on Shabbat immediately following the conclusion of Pesach. We shall discuss this issue, G-d-willing, at the appropriate time.