The NYT today features a story on whether Quinoa is Kosher for Passover, highlighting the controversy among what it calls “observant” or “Orthodox” Jews. But although the story is informative, it completely misses the point.
The only reason why quinoa would not be considered “כשר לפסח” is that people might confuse it for corn, lentil, peas,rice, or beans or other grains not allowed on Passover. But there’s a problem: corn, lentil, peas, rice, and beans are allowed on Passover.
These other grains are known as “kitniyot” (קיטניות), which literally means “small ones.” Are they kosher for Passover? Yes! They are not leavened, and they are nowhere banned in the Torah or the Talmud. But the hyper-legalistic ones, of course, had to figure out some way to make things difficult. Thus, according to the Orthodox Union (which should know):
In addition to the Torah’s restrictions on owning, eating and benefiting from chametz, an Ashkenazic minhag developed in the middle ages to not eat certain foods known collectively as “kitnios”. The Mishnah Berurah (453:6 & 464:5) cites three reasons for the minhag (a) kitnios is harvested and processed in the same manner as chametz, (b) it is ground into flour and baked just like chametz [so people may mistakenly believe that if they can eat kitnios, they can also eat chametz], ( c ) it may have chametz grains mixed into it [so people who eat kitnios may inadvertently be eating chametz]. Although initially there were those who objected to the minhag, it has become an accepted part of Pesach in all Ashkenazic communities.
This “minhag,” or custom, is just stunningly unpersuasive. You can’t eat kitniyot because you can grind them into flour? Then why is matza meal kosher for Passover? It might have chametz in it? Well, then maybe I should set up a hermetically sealed bubble chamber so as to avoid breathing chametz.
This custom isn’t just silly; it’s downright wrong. First, it divides Ashkenazim from Sephardim: the latter have very sensibly rejected the absurdities the Ashkenazim, but then this means that observant Jews from different ethnic backgrounds can’t eat together. That’s self-destructive.
Moreover, Pesach is a festival of celebration and thanksgiving. God does not tell the Israelites that they are to practice self-denial. The point is to remember how God freed us from oppression, and to pray for such freedom for all (“Let all who are hungry come and eat.”). It is not to engage in a perpetual game of one-upmanship to see who can be more technical and strict than someone else.
Besides, it’s wrong on its own terms. In the Bavli 114b, Rav Huna says that “beets and rice” can be used on the Seder plate instead of meat. Rice! On the Seder plate! But obviously, Rav Huna was only one of the authors of the Talmud: what did he know?
Fortunately, we have seen the development of the Kitniyot Liberation Front to stop this nonsense. There is a difference between a healthy respect for tradition and a slavish devotion to nonsensical hyperlegalism. Go ahead, eat you corn, beans, peas, rice, lentils and quinoa. And if anyone tells you you’re violating Passover, tell them to re-read their Talmud.