Thursday, April 17, 2008

thoughts on pesach; kitniyos etc.

ok. Dad said this might make a good blog post. I personally think its been beaten to death, year after year, but I would kinda like to have my opinion on the subject memorialized in some form.

The thought's are really about kitniyos in the United States, but some background is required.

These thoughts are as is. I'm not a rabbi. Im also writing from an orthodox jewish perspective and I understand there are other ideas in Judaism on how to interpret jewish law other than those of the orthodox.
The background:

1. Food which is Chametz, food which is a mixture of chametz and non chametz (even if the ratio is 1 in a million and the chametz falls in by accident), or food that was cooked with chametz, are all prohibited to own, benefit from while possessed by you, or, of course, eat, on pesach. A derivate of a chametz, such as the alcohol from wheat found in beer, is chametz, to the same degree that bread is chametz, and mixtures of it or food cooked with it are all chamtz. Even a very small amount of chametz is still chametz. If there is a doubt as to whether something contains chametz, chametz derivative, or is cooked with chametz or chametz derivative, it is treated as chametz, since the prohibitions to own use chametz you own, or eat chametz are all Torah prohibitions by way of the oral tradition, and we generally treat doubts in torah law strictly. (actually the eating and owning ones are right there in the bible itself).

Food prepared with chametz untensils or with utensils used to prepare chametz derivative are only rabbinically considered chametz, but the same restrictions apply albeit, with the same leniency for difficult situations and cases of doubt that rabbinic prohibitions are usually subject to.

Further, once chametz is owned by you on pesach, they are rabbinically assur to use or eat even after peasach-subject to the some leniences for difficult situations and cases of doubt that rabbinic prohibitions usually are subject to.

If you got chametz before pesach, you have two choices- 1 destroy, it somehow or 2 disown it somehow and don't use it. Mostly, in modern times, we go the second route, by selling it. We also declare anything we missed to be dust of the earth, however we only rely on this method as a backup.

This is all pretty much beyond dispute from an orthodox jewish halachic perspective.

2. Regardless of what is in an item, its only chametz if its edible by at least a dog*. Such food must edible by at least a dog to be considered chamtez**. This means that things which contain leaven but are not edible by even a dog, are not chametz. You can own or use such things. True, you can't eat them- but that's because you can't eat things that are not edible. This is also pretty much indisputable halachicly**.

this is also why:
Deodorant is not a problem at all. Don't give it any thought.
same goes for
laundry detergent-though except for emergencies-you shouldn't be doing laundry even on chol hamoed
rat poison
fill in the blank

Your kitchen utensils are not chametz because of this-although they cant be used to cook food on pesach or for pesach (see number one).

If you could eat any of these items, please call a psychiatrist.

*Warning: don't confuse this with saying that as long as something isn't eaten, its not chametz. Something which anybody could eat which is leven is assur to own, derive benefit from while owning, regardless of whether its actually eaten...however, if NO ONE could eat it because its not EDIBLE then it cant be chametz. It is a distinction between being eaten and being eatable. Astoundingly, this distinction is lost on 99% of the population, though its probably the most important rule of chametz and matzah there is. Some ignorant right wingers consider even non food items as chametz. They try to find out what laundry detergent is kosher for passover. Some left wingers think that as long as they don't eat chametz, they are fine, this is universally incorrect from an orthodox jewish perspective.)

**The actual question of what is or is not editable by a dog IS in great dispute. Rabbis decide the answer to that, and they don't use empirical studies of dogs, nor do they care about what you think a dog may or may not eat. The answer is technically, not what a dog really would or would not eat, but what the rabbis say a dog would or would not eat. There is great dispute about say, perfume, that contains a leaven derivative such as alcohol. Is such perfume edible? Well, not by my imagination. But can I really know whehter it would be by an alcoholic or a dog? Perhaps. But wait, you might say, I'm not going to eat my perfume so its doesn't matter. Wrong! it does matter. If a dog would drink you perfume, containing leven derivate, its chametz, even if you wouldn't drink it. If an alcoholic would drink such perfume, its chametz. You can't use or own chametz on pesach- please see the previous paragraph and point 1. Lipstick has a similar status as perfume in terms of edibility (its quite tasty you'd be surprised), and many lipsticks contain leven product derivatives-such as the cause and answer to life's problems-alcohol). Toothpaste is an interesting case since, while not edible-it sorta gets eaten anyway. Likewise, there is substantial questions concerning how to treat medicine (obviously-medicine which is not absolutely necessary for health reasons) as there is the entire year when it comes to regular kashrut). Vitamins, for example, are universally considered not medicine in the orthodox world. They require full kashrus supervision all year round because you don't know what is in them in addition to the actual vitamin, nor do you know how they were prepared. None are really made for pesasch. Thus, unless your doctor has specially ordered them for some reason, (such as deficiency-in which case pesach is probably low on your list of concerns) they are assur to use on peasech. Things such as chewable flavored tablets are usually in the same category. Tasteless things are easier to justify. Sometimes a rabbi will be able to know that a particular pills problem is only rabbinic (such as a utensil problem), in which case even less serous patients will be allowed to take it.

3. Once an item is not exempt as in number 2 however, it is impossible, in 99% of cases, for you to determine whether or not it is chamtaz without a heksher saying so, or otherwise a statement from a supervising agency saying that a certain class or brand of foods couldn't be a problem. It would be impossible for the greatest rabbi in the world. Here is why:

In a very small minority of cases, for example, fresh fish, fresh vegetables, and fresh fruit, you can be sure that the item is ok. However, if you think about it, about 99% of the groceries you buy are processed, packaged food. Processed food contains lots of little ingredients and additives and chemicals. You can't know whats in your food by looking at the ingrediants, since ingredients labels are not that descriptive. (do you know whats in artificial flavoring "red 5"? What is monosodium glutamate anyway?) Further, and most importantly, even somebody who could interpret all of this is still out of luck. The ingredients label doesn't tell you how food was prepared, and, as stated in number 1, the preparation process can make otherwise ok food rabbinically, or even generally (if its cooked with actual chamatz) not ok.

Yes, this is the same reason you need a regular heksher all year round for your regular food. I.E. You don't know whats in it, and even if you did, it wouldn't really help.

There isn't a single orthodox rabbi who would argue with point 3. They would all admit that processed food needs a heksher all year around to guarantee there is no non kosher food or mixture of milk or meat. they would also admit that, for pesach, a heksher is also needed to confirm the absence of chametz or chamatz prepared food.

Background on Kitniyos:

It is true that there is a special category of food out there, which is not chametz, nor really kosher for passover. This food is called kitniyos. Kitniyos means "small things". Supposedly some "small things" looked to some rabbis at some point in time something like chamatz. These rabbis were worried it looked bad to eat such food on passover even if it wasn't chamatz. They told their communities to refrain, and the practice caught on. This category of food has its origin neither from the oral tradition nor rabbinic, but rather from minhag. Only Ashkenazi jews, and only some of them, give any meaning this category of food-non ashiknazic jews consider kitniyos to be kosher for passover.

Those who give meaning to this category of food, which they, again, call kitniyos, do not eat it on passover.

Assuming a particular food can be established as not chametz, but kitniyos, four things could indisputably be said about such food.

a) no orthodox rabbi would say the kitniyos cant be owned or benefited from. The owning and benefiting prohibitions concern chamatz
b) no orthodox rabbi would say that the kitniyos, when cooked with kosher for passover food, would create a problem for the kosher for passover food.
c) no orthodox rabbi would say that the kitniyos, when cooked on kosher for passover dishes, makes the dishes a problem.
d) anyone who is sick and in need of such kitniyos, could eat it.

One other thing could maybe be said about such an item-that its derivatives, could possibly be eaten on pesach even by those who accept the kitniyos category. In fact, according to those authorities, all you gotta do to turn it from kitniyos to kosher for passover is disguise it by mashing it up or such. The logic here is that, since kitniyos grew out of a situation of confusion, when you take the physical remnants of that confusion away by disguising the food, the problem goes away.

Most orthodox Ashkenazi authorities, including the all powerful Rema (the author of the Ashkenazi supplement to the Shulchan Aruch (which carries the same weight, roughly, in modern Ashkenaz circles as the shulchan aruch), however, would also prohibit an item which veritably contains no chametz, nor is prepared by chamatz untensils, but contains only kitniyos derivative, from being eaten on passover. Sorry, he is dead, you can't call him up to argue. His descendants have unlisted numbers (kidding of course).

In any case, the MAJOR HOWEVER, for those of us who live in the US, whether they believe in the idea of kitniyos or not, is that it is impossible for the consumer to tell, 99% of the time, whehter an item is kitniyos or chametz*. see point 3 above.

the real reality of kitniyos is that NONE of the major kashrus supervising agencies in the US, (generally speaking-the OU, the star K, the Circle K, the Caf K and the CRC) will, under any circumstances, certify a product containing kitniyos, or kitniyos derivatives, as kosher for passover. Nor will they provide any certification that the only problem with a product is kitniyos or kitniyos derivative. In Isreal, where supposedly, many Sephardim or other people who don't believe in kitniyos live, kashrut supervisions such as the Rabbanut and the Beis Din Zedek HaEdah Hacharadit "BADATZ" give special certifications that food is ok but contains kitniyos. (its pretty obvious whether when a product has such a heksher the problem is derivate of kitniyos or kitniyos itself-since you can see kitniyos straight up).

As far as the US consumer is concerned when it comes to processed food, there are two categories, kosher for passover and not. We don't know why an otherwise kosher product is not kosher for passover if its not certified. It may be chametz. It may be cooked or prepared with untensils used for chametz. It may be kitniyos. Heck, it may even be kosher for passover but not certified-thus leaving the item in doubt as to what it is. You just don't know-and since one of the reasons is that it might contain chametz-not only cant you eat it-you cant use it, and you cant own it-because something in doubt of chametz is treated as chamtaz see number 1.

Thus, for the US consumer, 99% of the time kitniyos is a theoretical category that does not impact our decisions.*

This leads to your bottle of canola oil (the kashrut agencies generally consider this to be kitniyos derivative and refuse to examine it to see that is the only problem with a particular canola product)-going in your chamatz pile.-because you don't know whats in it. It leads to your bottle of non kosher for passover tomato sauce, which probably doesn't have anything in it even remotely chametz or kitniyos related, going in the chametz pile, since you don't know whats in it-and therefore there is a doubt that its chamtez.

It is sometimes hard to wrap our brains around the reality that kitniyos is a theoretical category. It seems to me, that, around pesach time, everyone becomes a sudden expert on the history and laws of kitniyos, and it is the subject of articles, shul speeches, hot debates, and even accusations of heresy on the one hand, and fundamentalism on the other.

*ok, true, certain stand alone unprocessed foods out there may still be verifiable not chametz and still kitniyos. For example, peanuts in shells or fresh ears of corn.

Not so novel additional thoughts on the kitniyos situation:

There are, of course, legitimate issues and problems in the US community about kitniyos.

As I explained above, the kitniyos issue really shouldn't affect our day to day decisions in the US as consumers. However, it does affect us, since if the US kashrut supervision agencies did tell us whether an item was only kitniyos and not chametz, there would be a lot more choices out there for those who either do not subscribe to kitniyos at all or would eat kitniyos derivites. A growing majority of the disgrunteled modern orthodox and a huge portion of the kashrut observing non-orthodox communities do would fit this bill)

It's unfortunately, really unknown exactly why US kashrus agencies refuse to get involved in differentiating kitniyos and chametz. But, the situation is more complex than agencies like the OU simply deciding to do it or not to do it.

Here the OU explains why it is unable to create a special certification for food that are not chamtez and only contain kitniyos. It begins by genearlly explaining that the OU is American and thus follows ashinazik tradition.

It then explains that the OU is a large organization, and relies on other kashrus agencies for supervision of certain parts to food. Basically, when you see an (OU)p on a can of soup, the OU may actually only directly responsablle for part of that supervision. Some ingredients of the soup may not have been directly supervised by the OU, but by another agency. The OU takes the word that that agency and says-ok that inderediant is good. It then might take the word of another agency on a different ingredient. Then it might, itself, supervise the process of putting those ingredients together to make the soup. Or it might rely on someone else for that. Other ingrediants may also be outsourced, or may be done directly. Since the ingredients are supervised somewhere either by the ou or a partner, and the process is supervised somewhere, either by them or a partner, the OU can then proudly put its name on the whole thing and certify it.

It explains that when it relies on these partners for part of the process, it relies mostly on their reputation, not on their precise details of whats in the product they are getting certified by the partner. Thus, while the OU would surely occasionally audit smaller kashrus partners on their practices and procedures, its not directly in charge of them, nor does it run them, or have access to the details of how it certified each and every product or procedure it certified. It can only choose whether to accpet the word of what those organizations are saying, or not accept it. Thus, while it takes the word of the agency on the issue of kosher (for passover) or not, it does not also take the list of ingrediats and procedures with it. All it knows is that their trusted partner has either said (yes-it is kosher for passover, or no its not). It also does not always know exactly why not. Basically, the OU is a bit of a consumer of kashrus information as well.

I would assume that this process of using small local authorities to certify parts of a product and then putting the information together to certify the whole, is probably used by the other major kashrus organizations as well.

But this only begs the question, why don't the smaller agenices separate kitiniyos from chamatz? Then the OU could use that info and pass it on to you when it gave its final seal on the end product. The answer to this one can only guess, and the reason, or reasons, probably vary from local authority to local authority.

Here are a few possible reasons:

a) the most important reason is the risk-reward ratio. Why should I, small kashrus agency X,
decide to invest administrative ability into creating a new certification for "just kitniyos-not chametz"? Even if I do, the other products my certified products are combined with will not make the distinction, and the OU, or final other product certifier such as caf K star k etc.., will still not be able to certify it as "just kitniyos" Thus, until other agencies get on board, I'm wasting my time. Of course, every other agency will think this way too, and hence, it never happens.

b) There are other reasons too. Some kashrus providers undoubtedly feel, in typical rabbinic jewish fashion, that if products do get the label that they are "just kitniyos" it will encourage some people to eat kitniyos on pesach, when perhaps they are not supposed to because 'their minhag' says not to.

this second reason sparks lots of deabte:

For one thing, who is the kashrus organization to tell people what "their minhag" is? If i tell you I eat kitniyos, doesn't that pretty much mean, by definition, that my minhag is to eat kitniyos?

For another, there is an elephant in the room here. Does the kashrus community really think that people don't already take matters into their own hands kitnoiyos wise? I'm certain, that many many of my orthodox friends self proclaim certain products kitniyos, and proceed to eat them on passover. It would be better if such people could do this knowing they aren't eating chametz, then the status quo, which has lots of those people accidentally eating chametz or chametz prepared products that they have self proclaimed to be kiniyos.

Furthermore, regrading the idea that local agencies may not want to get involved in kitniyos for an ideological reason doesn't sit well with some people. That the agencies might make decisions about what to certify based on anything other than what's in the product is actually a little dangerous. If the product is good, they should say, and if bad, should say its bad. there should be nothing else. Otherwise, what you have is a giant body pretending to be about kashrus, that is really forcing its own ideas and polices about things unrelated to kashrus on people through the guise of claiming food isn't kosher. Ask anyone who has ever worked preparing jewish food commercially or, better, in kashrus work itself, to get stories of how politics has prevented kosher products from being certified. I tend to agree with this sentiment for the most part, but only for the most part.

Here are two, I think, ligit hypothetical, situations in which I think food which, totally kosher, should nonetheless told no dice.

1. The food is from hooters. hypothetically-lets suppose hooters went kosher. Ok your food is kosher-your restaurant isn't, and our agency cannot support your business by saying the food is kosher even if it is. The entire idea of the restaurant runs counter to jewish values, and many people go there to do things that are explicitly forbidden to do.

2. The food is from a provider that decided to make a 'fake' heksher to try to convince people that the food was kosher. (btw-anybody can make a heksher and say food is kosher-and in most states-it is not illegal in most jurisdictions provided you use a symbol not owned by somebody else, and there is no barrier to doing so other than the fact that the kashrut community will tell each other that your no good. Even where there is some law saying that hekshers must be approved by some body of orthodox rabbis the state recognizes, such laws are questionably (really questionably) constitutional under the 1st amendment. Some yeshiva boys like to say 'new hekshers arise every day" well, not exactly, but you get the idea. An old WAWA near the University of Maryland College Park, which is no longer in business, tried this one day. Suppose this WAWA had, before going out of buisness, then tried to get a real heksher on some of its items-i gotta think it would be ok if the OU told them 'screw you.' (note-i don't know that the ou or anybody else does this-im just saying)

So to the people saying there should be absolutely no politics in kashrut-i have sympathy, but ask you to see some reality.

Update: The other major problem with kitniyos in the US is that the kashrus supervisors keep adding to the amount of things that, if inside a product, they will label as kitniyos-and thus unfit for passover. I think there is a lot of real concern here too.


Martin Weiss said...

Two comments

1. Suppose your company manufactured a product that had a heksher and was a combination of various kitniyot substances (say, a rice and beans based freeze-dry dish to which one would just add water, heat and serve) and that the product was much enjoyed within the Sephardic community. Would it be proper for the company to solicit a process-review by a Sephardic authority in order to obtain an 'informal' kitniyot heksher?

If this were done and the 'informal' kitniyot heksher became widely known and then subsequently, other companies sought similar process-reviews,
would this be a game-breaker and what do you think the OU would do?

2. Hooters might be unhappy with your characterization of their restaurants. It is true that the waitresses dress a way to show off. It is also true that flirty banter with customers takes place. However, neither prostitution, lap dancing, nor nudity is part of the experience (in fact, I think Hooters specifically instructs its employees that they are not to fraternize with customers beyond certain specified parameters - Gerry Berg has a lot of knowledge on this, based on among other things as I recall, on information he has learned while teaching employees of Hooters.

George Weiss said...


regarding your first question:

It's not only proper-but it is done. I don't know what you mean by game breaker. Further I don't think the OU would do a thing-since it already doesn't do a thing.

regarding your second question:

for a man to deliberately gaze at a woman to seek arousal is expressly prohibited by jewish law. Yeah that sucks. Yeah everyone does it anyway. But that doesn't mean that its permitted. And it doesn't mean it should be officially condoned.

Martin Weiss said...

here's what I mean by game breaker

The Smith company gets informal kitniot heksher for a product, then for another product, then for a line of products.

The Jones company asks for the same process-review as the Smith company got. They get it and now make a Jones version of the Smith company's products.

The Johnson company does the same.

These are companies control 95%+ of a $50 million market.

Now the Sephardic community now says, in some publication, that generally these type of products are OK but only if they are done by the Smith, Jones or Johnson companies.

Then the Smith-Jones=Johnson companies ask to put something on the label and the United Sephardic Assembly (whatever) says ok put USA-Kitniyot on the label.

that changes the game

George Weiss said...

the orthodox jewish kashrut market is really small.

the orthodox jewish sephardic market in the us is even smaller.

the orthodox jewish market for kosher for passover stuff is real small.

theres just not enough incentive to make that happen