Kitniyot, qit'niyyoth (Hebrew: קִטְנִיּוֹת ,קטניות , קיטניות) (literally little things) are a category of foods which are defined by Jewish law and tradition that Ashkenazi Jews (Jews from Eastern Europe, Germany, etc.) avoid eating during the Biblical festival of Passover.
Description and Origins
The Torah (Exodus 13:3) prohibits Jews from eating leaven (chametz) during Passover. Technically, chametz is only leaven made from the "five grains": wheat, spelt, barley, shibbolet shu'al (two-rowed barley, according to Maimonides; oats according to Rashi) or rye; although there are additional rabbinic prohibitions against eating these grains in any form other than matzo.
Among traditional Ashkenazi Jews, the custom during Passover is to refrain from not only products of the five grains but also kitniyot. Literally "small things," such as other grains and legumes. Traditions of what is considered kitniyot vary from community to community but generally include maize (North American corn), as well as rice, peas, lentils, and beans. Many also include peanuts in this prohibition, and one source, the Chayei Adam, also includes potatoes in his list, although his opinion is not followed by any large or major groups. Sephardi Jews typically do not observe the ban on kitniyot, albeit some groups do abstain from the use of dried pulses during Passover.
The origins of this practice is not clear, though two common theories are that these items are often made into products resembling chametz (e.g. cornbread), or that these items were normally stored in the same sacks as the five grains and people worried that they might become contaminated with chametz. It is also possible that crop rotation would result in the forbidden chametz grains growing in the same fields, and being mixed in with the kitniyot. Those authorities concerned with these three issues suggested that by avoiding eating kitniyot, people would be better able to avoid chametz. The Vilna Gaon (Hagaos HaGra, ibid.) cites a novel source for this custom. The Gemorrah in Pesachim (40b) notes that Rava objected to the workers of the Raish Gelusa (the Exilarch) cooking a food called chasisi on Pesach, since it was wont to be confused with chametz. The Tosefos explain that, according to the Aruch, chasisi are lentils, and thus, argues the Gra, establishes the basis for the concern of kitniyot. Rabbi David Golinkin in the Responsa of the Masorati (Conservative) Movement cites Rabbenu Manoah (Provence, ca. 1265) who wrote an opinion in his commentary on Maimonides (Laws of Festivals and Holidays 5:1) that "It is not proper to eat qitniyot on holidays because it is written (in Deut. 16:14) that ‘you shall rejoice in your festivals’ and there is no joy in eating dishes made from kitniyot".
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