Rabbi: Allow beans and pulses on Pesach

By Nathan Jeffay, March 25, 2010
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Three years ago, Jerusalem rabbi David Bar-Hayim sent shockwaves through Israeli Orthodoxy after convening a beth din which ruled that all Israelis may eat kitniyot on Passover.

Now, he has come to the conclusion that the ruling should also apply to English Jews.

As well as following the Biblical law of avoiding chametz on Passover, Ashkenazi Jews observe a medieval tradition of also steering clear of numerous foods classified by rabbis as kitniyot, their term for pulses and legumes.

In 2007 Rabbi Bar-Hayim, a graduate of Merkaz Harav, the flagship religious-Zionist yeshivah in Jerusalem, ruled that since the tradition of abstaining from kitniyot is not native to Israel, it is not binding on Israelis. This reflected the mission of the Shiloh Institute, a Jerusalem research body that he heads which works to reinstate the historic traditions of the Land of Israel in modern Israel.

His argument was that according to the Shulchan Aruch, the authoritative code of rabbinic law, Jews who move to new areas should adopt its traditions rather than the traditions of their former residence.

Given that the tradition avoiding kitniyot originated in Europe and never became dominant in the Middle East, it is not binding on Israelis, he reasoned. Some Israeli Ashkenazim started eating kitniyot as a result of the ruling, though it was shunned by the Orthodox establishment.

Until now, he has only spoken publicly of his ruling's relevance for Israeli Jewry. But in an interview with the JC he said that it also applies to English Jewry.

His reasoning is that the tradition of avoiding kitniyot emerged at precisely the time that Jews were expelled from England - 1290 to 1656. This means that, just as the kitniyot custom cannot be considered native to Israel, it cannot be considered native to England.

The tradition became established in England, he believes, by Jews who moved from Europe continuing to observe it out of habit after they immigrated. But he argues that according to halachah, when arriving in the "halachic virgin territory" of England they were free to either retain or discard the tradition. He believes that immigrants to England were unaware of this choice and therefore their descendants are free to either retain or discard the kitniyot custom.

He said: "There's no question that when the Jews were expelled from England this tradition had not taken hold. Even if it later took hold in central European countries and people from these lands moved to England, as with all Jews who move, their slate was wiped clean and if you wish you can define for yourselves a new set of minhagim [customs]."

The option of dropping the kitniyot custom remains open to English Jews even centuries after their ancestors immigrated, he said.

"Until this issue is brought to their attention and they consciously decide not to avail themselves of that option [to drop the kitniyot tradition], it remains on the table."

    Last updated: 2:23pm, March 25 2010