Fight for Your Quinoa! by. R. Yosef Kanefsky

This one is in our hands.

Quinoa has been a breath of fresh culinary air in the non-kitniyot Pesach kitchen, and has restored dietary sanity to us Ashkenazim. But the kitniyot zealots are lurking. The OU, for example, is equivocating on quinoa’s non-kitniyot status . The battle for quinoa is underway, but if we all work together, we can win this one.

Remember when peanuts were not considered kitniyot? Probably you don’t. But when Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l was asked about peanuts in 1956, most Ashkenazim were eating them on Pesach. And not only that, but Rav Moshe argued clearly and unequivocally that peanuts should remain permissible, and that they should NOT be lumped in with beans and legumes. (Igrot Moshe, Orach Chaim 3, 63) The only reason we don’t pack up peanut butter and jelly on matzo for our Chol HaMoed outings today, is that our forbearers buckled before the kitniyot zealots of their day. And those of us who ignore history are doomed to repeat it.

The kitniyot zealots of Rav Moshe’s day used arguments quite similar to those being raised by the forces conspiring to deprive us of quinoa today. The rabbi who posed the peanuts question was “astonished” that Ashkenazim were eating peanuts, for “he had heard that there is a place somewhere in which people are making flour ” out of peanuts, and further, “he had heard that peanuts are planted in fields in the same manner as other kitniyot are (i.e. they too share uncomfortable proximity to grains) ”.

But Rav Moshe, while acknowledging that these are the concerns that motivated the custom of not eating kitniyot, nonetheless dismissed the idea that the peanuts ought to now be added to the prohibition. To begin with, he points out, not everything out of which flour can be made is kitniyot, with potatoes being exhibit “A”. Additionally, not everything that may come into contact with grain is considered kitniyot, as pointed out by Taz and Magen Avraham, the classic commentaries on the Shulchan Aruch. In short, Rav Moshe concludes, the category of kitniyot includes only those items which “were explicitly prohibited, and those which are widely known [to be included]”. Further, he states, “the Sages of recent generations did not want to add new items”  to the kitniyot basket, even as they would not permit that which already was customarily not eaten. . Rav Moshe continued, “and accordingly, in many places the rabbis did not want to prohibit peanuts. And in places where there is no custom prohibiting them, one should not prohibit them, for in matter such as these one should not be machmir (stringent).” Rav Moshe spoke. But we just didn’t want our peanuts badly enough.

The quinoa game is ours to lose my friends. To win, all we need to do is to keep eating it (and to check the raw quinoa for any foreign matter before cooking it, the same way Sefardim check rice). If it becomes our minhag (custom) that we eat quinoa, then the halachik argument is settled. So let’s fight for our quinoa! And then turn our attention to cooking up the most meaningful, inspiring Pesach that we can.

12 Responses to Fight for Your Quinoa! by. R. Yosef Kanefsky

  1. Gil Student says:

    Define “equivocating”. Do you mean the recommendation to ask your local rabbi or the warning that quinoa might be processed with chametz? If the former, who can object to that? If the latter, please note that multiple kosher supervision organizations are warning about the possibility of chametz contamination. See the CRC’s alert from Feb 23, 2012: http://www.crcweb.org/alerts.php

    • Yosef Kanefsky says:

      The former. When there is solid halachik opinion that quinoa is not in the category of kitniyot, (as the CRC and the Star-K and poskim within the OU all agree on), it is legitimate to object when the OU won’t adopt this position as well. There is no virtue in being machmir on kitniyot. The need to check the quinoa before using it, to be sure that there are no other grains mixed it, is a whole other story. This of course needs to be done, as the even the smallest amount of chametz is prohibited on Pesach.

      • Gil Student says:

        I see multiple issues here. First, if you select someone as your posek, should you ignore him when you don’t like his answer. That seems to be the implication of your attitude here. The OU has two poskim. One permits and one forbids. You are suggesting they ignore that.

        Or perhaps you object to their having a posek who might be strict on an issue like this. Maybe he is too Charedi for the OU. I think such an attitude is mistaken for multiple reasons, not least of which is that even Modern Orthodox poskim sometimes rule strictly when others are lenient (like Rav Soloveitchik often did).

        I don’t want to seem like I am accusing you of anything but I ask you to consider a third possibility. Perhaps you are upset that one of the OU’s poskim disagrees with you. You see this issue as clear cut and so does he, but in the other direction. If that is the case, perhaps you need to reconsider your objection. People disagree, even great halakhic authorities.

      • Phyllis Shapiro says:

        I knew this fight would come one day, when I first printed my little cookbook, “Quinoa: The Pesach Wondefood!” several years ago. To help with the battle, I would be happy to mail a copy to anyone wanting one🙂 Send requests to
        phyllis.shapiro1@gmail.com

      • Anonymous says:

        I want to come to your shul. am visiting LA and just saw that is where you are…lo mikreh. raq m’hashem

  2. ari says:

    I dont understand why you have problem with those who wont eat it and why you call them zelots.According to my local shul Rabbi he said its a debate if its ok

  3. Yaakov says:

    Ironic that the more liberal wing of orthodoxy argues for decentralization of rabbinic authority but is now arguing that the OU shouldn’t be deferring this decision to local rabbis.

  4. Yaakov Borow says:

    don’t mean to nitpick, but for sefardim who read this, be careful with peanut butter – it’s not necessarily
    all peanuts, could have stabilizers that are problematic for Pesach.

  5. […] -Quinoa (keep our quinoa safe for Passover!) […]

  6. David Ilan says:

    Members of the Kitniyot Liberation Front, Unite!!!
    Down with Chumrot!!!

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