Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Of Potatoes and Olives

The OU Guide to Pesach 2011 is here, and already people are complaining that it lists potatoes as kitniyos. In fact it does no such thing; in the article, on page 17, it specifically says that the traits of kitniyos "are not absolute, and certain exceptions are made, prohibiting items that do not share these characteristics, and permitting others even though they fall under these categories... it is customary to use potatoes and cottonseed oils (except in Jerusalem) despite the fact that they are ground into flour." But it is somewhat confusing and misleading that in the chart on the bottom of the page, it lists potatoes as a category of kitniyos.

I was more bothered by the article on shiurim on pages 12-14, which gave several different halachic opinions on the size of a kezayis, but gave the minimum as being 26 cubic centimeters. It's a pity that it didn't acknowledge the minimum as being 4-6 cubic centimeters, which, as acknowledged by many Poskim, and has no arguments against it that I know of, is actually the size of a zayis. If you haven't yet read my essay on the evolution of the kezayis, I can tell you that it's by far the most popular essay that I have ever written! If you have read it, please pass it around, it's free. You can download it here.

If anyone has the book with pictures of a kezayis of different foods, can they tell me if it has a picture of olives - and if so, how many olives it shows as being the size of an olive?

58 comments:

  1. Kitniyos are the enemy of rationalist Judaism as the whole concept is completely irrational. I mean really, peanuts? Come on!

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  2. The concept is neither irrational nor anti-rationalist. But its recent expansion is - as well as undermining people's respect for the halachic process.

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  3. I hope the idea that potatoes are kitnyot expands...

    This way I have a better argument for my family to follow R. David Bar Hayim on this issue.

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  4. "Please can you elaborate?"

    I'm surprised you didn't hear about this.

    R. David Bar Hayim, said that Ashkenazim moving to Israel are now Israeli, and following the minhagim of Europe are not necessary. Ergo, No need for Kitnyot.

    There are a few news articles about it from 2007.

    http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-3382886,00.html

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  5. R' Natan -- it would be interesting to trace the history of the Pesach kitniyot prohibition and the reasons behind it.

    I have read conflicting explanations -- principally that there is an issue of maarat ayin in grinding up legumes to make flour, then preparing baked goods from it. I have also read that the concern is that one might mistakenly prepare "matzah" out of kitniyot flour and use it for the Seder, and that we prohibit kitniyot to avoid this situation.

    How we got from legume flour to prohibiting peanuts, mustard seeds and fresh green beans, I do not know.

    I'm sure pretty much every other reader is more knowledgeable than I am on this, but I would appreciate some "illumination"...

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  6. When I started in yeshiva, I well remember the rebbe exhorting us to eat a proper shiur of matzah and maror. As I recall, we were told that we must eat somewhere in the area of 2/3 of a whole matzah, both for motzi matzah and korech and a full romaine lettuce leaf or approximately two and half tablespoons of chrein for marror. When sitting at my father's Seder that Pesach (his last, unfortunately)I protested that he was not adhering to the proper shiurim and serving too little. He gave me that certain look of bemused disdain that all good fathers acquire the moment their children are born, and said, "Are you telling me my grandfather didn't know how eat matzah? You want to eat more, zei gezunt eat more. But don't dress it up in narishkeit." Incidentally, the grandfather to whom he refered, his maternal grandfather, was a schochet in Kisvarda, one of the most important Orthodox kehillot in Hungary before WWII. By all accounts he was a man of considerable learning.

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  7. I flipped through the Artscroll kezayis book a few years ago. If I recall correctly, it claimed that it takes 3-4 olives to make a kezayis.

    In any case, I am certain that a) it had a page on olives in the kezayis book, and that b) it required multiple olives.

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  8. "Please can you elaborate?"

    I just realized that you might have been asking me to elobrate on why potatoes being kitnyone gives me a better argument than the status quo.

    Basically, if potatoes are now seen as kitnyot, and all of our favorite recipes use potatoe for the past three generations, then its easy to say that kitnyot is really just like gebrachs, and since we aren't going to stop eating potatoes, theres no reason to be so careful about corn syrup in our soda either.

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  9. @Jordan:

    The best (ie most sensible to me) explanation I have heard points out that the minhag of kitniyot arose in central Europe at roughly the same time as the practice of crop rotation became widespread in that area. Suddenly, you were growing beans in a field where you might have grown wheat the previous year, and there might be a few volunteers of the former left over. So when you harvested the beans, they were likely to be "contaminated" with wheat. Perhaps additionally, if the beans tended to get ground up anyway, it would become impossible to pick the wheat out, and so they were simply banned.

    I knew a women of Sephardi background whose grandfather had accepted the minhag of kitniyot on himself for precisely this reason -he was a farmer and observed the contamination in his own harvests.

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  10. I'm curious, Rabbi Slifkin: how much matzah do *YOU* eat at the seder? Is it 6 cc or 26?

    I don't mean to be rude or to try and put you on the spot; it's an honest, practical question.

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  11. Jordan

    >R' Natan -- it would be interesting to trace the history of the Pesach kitniyot prohibition and the reasons behind it.

    Almost certainly the real reason is medieval crop rotation, where, simplistically speaking, one year they'd plant a grain followed by a legume. See here. Therefore it was a very real possibility that some stray grain shoots from the year before would get mixed in with the legume; the possibility of real chometz was therefore a reality.

    All the other reasons ("looks like flour") are bunk - we use potato starch, and rice doesn't look like flour unless it is ground up.

    Since we no longer remember the real reason, all these other analogies seem reasonable to poskim, and that's why kitniyos expansion can happen. Since Ashkenazim place a premium on minhagim, and since the issue of abolishing kitniyos became a test case amidst the battle over Reform about 200 years ago, and since we live in a time of abundance in food relative to the past, there is reason to believe that the custom of avoiding kitniyos will never be abolished as long as all these factors apply.

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  12. Kitniyos became significant in the battle with Reform. That battle is no longer being fought. But the new battle, with Modern Orthodox etc., means that Kitniyos is still a major issue, just like metzitzah b'peh. It will only be abolished when that is not seen as caving in to pressure from without.

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  13. I eat 6cc. (Actually a little more, because I'm usually hungry!) Incidentally, I did double-check with a Posek.

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  14. Re: the shiur of matza. Reb Moshe has a very machmir shiur, because he held that any air inside the matza does not count towards the shiur: there has to be a czayis of flour. Pretty much everyone in America follows his shiur. A friend of mine was invited once for the Sedarim to our Rosh Yeshiva zt"l, and was taken aback to see how small the Rosh Yeshiva's czayis was!

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  15. Thanks for the explanations everyone -- crop rotation does make sense.

    The logical follow-up is to ask how we went from prohibiting legumes based on the possibility of contamination by wheat (or barley, etc.) to also prohibiting rice, green beans, now possibly potatoes, etc. -- crops that all grow in very different environments and are very unlikely to be contaminated with wheat during harvest.

    The whole thing strikes me as an issue of "chumra creep" and I can see how it would have looked appealing during the initial doctrinal battles with Reform, and as Yankel points out, it would continue to be appealing today for related reasons. This isn't too "rational" though.

    In today's world, if one's goal is to demonstrate personal stringency on Pesach (and to enforce it by paskening le-chumra for others) and / or to continue "minhag avoiseinu" for its own sake, then I can understand why avoiding / forbidding green beans and peanuts would be satisfying (though excessive self-deprivation probably runs counter to the spirit of the Chag).

    If the goal is really to avoid chametz, I would tend to agree with Garnel Ironheart here that continuing to avoid grains, nuts and vegetables that have nothing to do with wheat is more than a bit "irrational".

    Sorry for the rambling post but this is an issue that greatly fascinates me.

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  16. Jordan

    >The logical follow-up is to ask how we went from prohibiting legumes based on the possibility of contamination by wheat (or barley, etc.) to also prohibiting rice, green beans, now possibly potatoes, etc. -- crops that all grow in very different environments and are very unlikely to be contaminated with wheat during harvest.

    As I said/ surmised, the real reason was forgotten. Whatever your age is, you've made it thus far without having heard the real reason. So why should it surprise you that the rabbis forgot it too? Do people normally "remember" agricultural practices of the early middle ages? As a result of the forgetting of the reason, we are left with a minhag, and even though "all minhagim are holy," reasons for them are sought, and when all sorts of wrong reasons are proposed for a custom, then extending the minhag via analogy makes a lot of sense.

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  17. S. -- I understand what you are saying. I would just be very interested in reading how "extending the minhag via analogy" led to including such things as green beans in the list, and why the expansion of kitniyot continues to this day, even though we now have a pretty good idea of the nature of the original concern with kitniyot on Pesach.

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  18. "even though we now have a pretty good idea of the nature of the original concern with kitniyot on Pesach."

    Who is this "we" you speak of?

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  19. Reb Moshe has a very machmir shiur, because he held that any air inside the matza does not count towards the shiur: there has to be a czayis of flour.

    Air? In modern matza? That wouldn't make so much of a difference.

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  20. the gemara (brachos 39a) mentions that it takes more than one olive for a kezayit since a kezyit is measured with the pit and olives are eaten without the pit. also different olives are different sizes so if a person eats small olives than he will need to eat a few (on the other hand if he eats large olives than 1 would be more than enough)

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  21. >S. -- I understand what you are saying. I would just be very interested in reading how "extending the minhag via analogy" led to including such things as green beans in the list

    They're beans, or they look like them. As it is, it takes a pretty enlightened rabbi to realize (and act upon) the idea that only an Old World crop can be kitniyos.

    > we now have a pretty good idea of the nature of the original concern with kitniyot on Pesach.

    This morning you didn't know about the crop rotation system, so perhaps many still don't know? (And I admit that it's only a good guess. I don't think it is borne out from early Jewish sources. It simply makes more sense than any other suggestion.)

    But irregardless, halacha is casuistic. Poskim work up the chain, and in the recent past they find lots of voices against abolishing the custom, and no one knows or addresses the new fangled idea that the custom makes sense only in the context of a particular kind of crop rotation system. If you read that Wiki link about the history of crop rotation, we see that in fact its been many hundreds of years since legumes and beans were planted in the same plot as wheat. So if kitniyos were not abolished then, why now? Orthodox Jews are very attached to customs (except when they're not), and this is a true legacy of tradition.

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  22. S. said...
    Jordan
    >R' Natan -- it would be interesting to trace the history of the Pesach kitniyot prohibition and the reasons behind it.

    >Almost certainly the real reason is medieval crop rotation, where, simplistically speaking, one year they'd plant a grain followed by a legume. See here. Therefore it was a very real possibility that some stray grain shoots from the year before would get mixed in with the legume; ..

    Perhaps not. Crop rotation – about which I know little – seems, according to the link provided, to have already evolved in Europe to a relatively sophisticated three-plant sequence by the 800s. whereas we first start hearing of qitniyos prohibitions more than three hundred years later. As well, the contamination explanation (and I well understand how such a “rational” rationale commends itself to a blogfull of wannabe rationalists) does not appear to have surfaced prior to the 13th century when it was first articulated in the sma”k, who innovated the notion of “osi l’achlufei”. It is worth citing the late prof Ta Shma who traces the practice to an entirely different halochic thread, that of permissibility of certain foods on (any) yom tove, depending on whether they required very fine grinding (prohibited) or coarser grinding (permitted). While qitniyos would seem to fall more into the permitted coarser grind category it suffered an additional debility that the coarse grind swelled up when wet, similar to the case of grains in liquid eggs about which chometz status the rishonim were famously perplexed. Ta Shma’s argument is complex this short summary does not do it justice. Those interested should avail themselves of the full article.

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  23. "This morning you didn't know about the crop rotation system, so perhaps many still don't know?"

    I knew about crop rotation before this morning, but I didn't know that it is considered a possible r likely explanation of the origin of the kitniyot prohibition. Thank you again for filling me in. If I am being disrespectful, I apologize.

    " As it is, it takes a pretty enlightened rabbi to realize (and act upon) the idea that only an Old World crop can be kitniyos."

    I would guess it would depend on what the definition of "kitniyot" is -- I'm not even sure I know anymore!

    " If you read that Wiki link about the history of crop rotation, we see that in fact its been many hundreds of years since legumes and beans were planted in the same plot as wheat. So if kitniyos were not abolished then, why now?"

    Perhaps the ban on kitniyot was instituted after one or two years in which legume harvests, which were previously unproblematic, were found to be severely contaminated with wheat or other forbidden contaminants. I recall reading of a related explanation for the origin of the gebroks custom.

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  24. I am curious. The book "midos v'shiurei torah" list the shirium of Rav Avraham Chaim Noeh, which were based on the Rambam's computation using the Arabic dinar and then makes a further adjustment based on the fact that while Rav Avraham Chaim Noeh assumed that the existing Turkish dinar was the same as the Rambam's Arabic dinar, in fact it was somewhat larger. Given those calculations, is a kazayis the size of our olives?

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  25. For another interesting theory, see rabbi David Golinkin, here: http://www.responsafortoday.com/vol3/4.pdf

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  26. according to the "kazayit" book, one kazayit is 3 large olives

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  27. The red and yellow laminated card showing the various measurements to be used on Pesach is the accepted standard.

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  28. I hope that more rabbis join Machon Shilo in allowing qitniyoth for everyone living in Eretz Yisrael.

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  29. American corn seems to have become kitnios because it sounds like "korn" which is Yiddish for rye.

    I have difficulty when objective mesurements/diminsions/values are assigned to what were clearly subjective judgements. A k'zayis is a k'zayis I.E. about the size of a large (not jumbo) olive as found in your friendly neighborhood supermarket. 6cc sounds about right, plus or minus.

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  30. Where does the minhag against kitniyot come from? Here's an interesting shiur on the topic:

    http://machonshilo.org/en/eng/list-audio-shiurim/35-hagim/278-the-prohibition-against-qitniyoth-on-pesah-anatomy-of-an-error

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  31. Rabbi Bar Hayim proposes that based on the Jewish sources themselves and analyzing the first instances of this supposed custom being mentioned in said sources, it appears to him that the original reason for the prohibition of kitniyoth was based on a mistake by certain rabbis in Southern France who did not have a clear idea of what the five grains were perhaps because of their location. A sort of karaitic extra-Talmudic logic was then applied due to this lack of clear grasp of what the Torah she baal peh was saying. There are early authorities (early in the history of this "custom," that is) who point out the mistaken view of certain rabbis within southern france and what that mistake is ( a logic based on 'puffing when cooking'). Thus a mistaken and quasi-karaitic undertone governs the entire practice.

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  32. At the risk of indulging in an annual diatribe against the expansion of the Ashkenazi minhag of forbidding kitniyot on Pesach, let me offer just one comment. The expansion of kitniyot to cottonseed oil is irrational. Not only is it an oil rather than a solid, but it isn't produced in factories that deal with grain. As to the alleged problem with cottonseed flour, that is a fantasy. Cottonseed flour is poisonous due to its gossypol content, and is, therefore, not sellable as a foodstuff. Only the oil pressed out of the seeds is free of the toxic agent and ia, therefore, is suitable for food use.

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  33. There are several reasons why it is difficult to abolish the truly riddiculous minhag of kitniyos.

    1. Tribal identity. Hungarians, and others who dont eat kitniyos are PROUD of this fact, as a mark of distinction between them and, say, Litvaks. However weirdly, it has become some sort of status symbol in their own eyes, and they are hence not likely to relinquish it that fast.

    2. Women. The overwhelming majority of readers of this blog, and others like it, are men. Yet it is women who do most of the shopping and cooking. So this becomes just another one of the old "if it wasnt for my wife, you couldnt eat in my house" type of things. Unless you get women involved in the whole rational judaism enterprise - which is fraught with dangers, VIACOM"L - then they are unlikely to get on board with the kitniyos thing either. They'll just do what they were taught, either by their mother or by their rabbi.

    3. Chumrah D'pischa. This concept is indeed well-established in very old halachic sources, such as in the bittul ratio. Thus, rabbis feel comfortable engaging in chumrah creep, to use some poster above's nice turn of phrase, because the underlying chumrah itself is well-rooted. And the fact that it's only 7 days, which most people can deal with, further encourages them.

    These are some micro issues why it would be hard to abolish the minhag. There are also, natch, a whole bunch of macro isses that touch upon how the orthodox community has evolved that also relate to this one issue.

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  34. DF, I don't think women who understand why kitnioys are forbidden have any special attachment to this chumrah. Chumras and meshugasen generally come from men. What chumras have women invented? Chazal say 'rotza isha betisha kabin she'll tiflus mekav ehod she'll prishus'. Chumras are against women's nature. Please consider removing women from your list.

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  35. DF -- I would agree with you that kitniyot issues are almost more sociological than anything else.

    At some point the push toward increased chumrah on Pesach has to be balanced out with the Torah obligation to be happy on the Chagim.

    As far as concerns the role of women in defining acceptable practices for Pesach, I'm reminded of the story that it was the protests of housewives that prevented potatoes from being included in the category of kitniyot. (Though it seems from R' Natan's post that the OU is now ambivalent on this.)

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  36. Does anyone remember the Pesach "naki m'chashash b'nanot" joke?

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  37. The book "Hilchos Kezayis" is only showing the pictures according to the rather large understanding of the size of a kezayis. However they do acknowledge in the beginning of the book that there are opinions that hold the Kezayis is the size of a normal olive and they mention the geonim specifically.

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  38. Jordan, can you please tell us the full story of that protest of housewives? Like where, when, how, etc... It sounds very interesting. Thanks.

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  39. DF said...
    Tribal identity. Hungarians, and others who dont eat kitniyos are PROUD of this fact, as a mark of distinction between them and, say, Litvaks.

    Litvaks eat kitniyas? Perhaps you are thinking of gebrokts. That said, you’re probably right that identity and feeling better than the benighted other has a lot to do with the spread and maintenance of chumros.

    > Carol said...
    DF, I don't think women who understand why kitnioys are forbidden have any special attachment to this chumrah.

    I think that DF’s point is that most women don’t understand why kitnioys are forbidden, and would, indeed, be willing to abandon it if they did.

    > Chumras and meshugasen generally come from men.

    Only because women are not in a position of authority in the Orthodox world.

    > Chumras are against women's nature.

    Women are not angels, and men are not fools.

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  40. RS, can you please translate 6cc into a piece of regular matza for me? I would like to understand what we are talking about here. Thank you.

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  41. Carol, I probably read it online somewhere. The gist was something like this: one or more rabbis in 18th or 19th-century Eastern Europe were going to declare potatoes to be kitniyot and assur them for Pesach, but the local housewives were so dependent on them as a staple that they protested and ended up convincing the rabbis not to make such a declaration.

    Not sure how much truth there is to it, but it's an interesting story.

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  42. G*3, DF point was that women have to get involved with the study of rationalist Judaism in order to abandon their alleged attachment to chumros. What I am saying is that all they need to know is reasons for halochos to feel confidence.

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  43. G*3, if you compare the record of women parliamentarians to the record of men, or female criminals to male you will see that women have a gentler nature. Chazal say that 'noshim daatan kalos'. What it means is that women have a non-agressive, pleasant nature and are not inclined to chumros. I am not suggesting that they should be in charge, but Pesach would be a breeze if they were.

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  44. The joke is that the Chayei Adam tried to do it, and they told him he'd be taking the "chayei" out of the "adam."

    I doubt it's true. The fundamental error in the OU piece is assuming that things are assur unless explicitly made muttar, which at least here is false.

    R' Slifkin: I reread the essay and didn't notice the doubtful assertion often made that the matza needs to be pulverized into powder to measure the kezayit. Regardless: Is the kezayit two dimensional (a piece of matzah that is olive-shaped and sized) or three (two or three such pieces stacked)?

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  45. G3, you're right, I had been thinking of gebroks. Still, perhaps that first point is still valid, at least somewhat, Vis a. Vis the sefardim. Not sure.

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  46. In 20 years from now people in Israel will say to their kids, "Kids there was once a time when Jews did not eat Rice, peanuts, chumus and other small things on Pesach, that are NOT actually chametz, this was a custom developed out of a mistake in the long Exile"
    And the kids will laugh and say B"H we can have Matza dipped in chumus and sushi on pesach.

    "Pass it back or pass it on"
    I chose to pass this custom back to the long exile, where it belongs.

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  47. Carol-

    B'nos Yisroel Hechmiru al Atzmun V'Yashvu Shivah Nekiyim al Tipas Dam Kachardal.

    (And that Chumrah is despite the great desire for "Tiflus" that you cite...)

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  48. I'm not sure what the problem with the OU piece is. As has been noted the Chayei Adam felt that potatos were kitniyos but in the end the reason we eat it is because we'd have nothing left to eat. That sounds like some sort of a hetter to me, no? A hetter doesn't mean the thing isn't kitniyos? I'm guessing potatoes were listed because they share the "made into flour" category that could be confused with normal flour.
    Isaac Balbin

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  49. Rocker, highly doubtful. From answers.com fwiw: 'A law in the name of R. Huna (TJ, Ber. 5:1), about which there was no dispute, states that even if a woman sees a drop of blood the size of a mustard seed she keep seven clean days because of it. This law, in a slightly different form, is found several times in the Babylonian Talmud in the name of R. Ze'Eira. The additional phrase in the latter version, "The daughters of Israel became more strict with themselves so that even if she saw ...," is remarkable in that it seems to be the only case where rabbinic literature attributed such a far-reaching legal decision to women.'

    Rocker, I get a feeling that you attribute a negative connotation to 'tiflus'. There is none in that context. What it means there is closeness rather than separation(prishus). The essence of a chumra is separation the essence of a woman is compassion and empathy which is tiflus.

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  50. Isaac, the problem is that if something was never treated as kitniyot, it doesn't need a "heter" to eat it. The whole mindset here is the problem. It's like asking what the heter to eat an apple is.

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  51. Shlomo: "I chose to pass this custom back to the long exile, where it belongs."

    Why don't you put the Talmud Bavli (and Yerushalmi) back into the exile while you're at it?

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  52. It's easy to expand the definition of kitniyot when there is no real definition of "kitniyot" (other than "what Jews shouldn't eat on Pesach") -- especially in an environment when everyone is trying to be machmir.

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  53. Raphael writes:
    American corn seems to have become kitnios because it sounds like "korn" which is Yiddish for rye.

    "Corn" goes back etymologically to old Germanic and Indo-European roots which simply mean "grain", in particular the most important local grain. What we now call "corn" is more properly called maize. It was referred to as "Indian corn" - the chief cereal crop of the New World - or "corn on the cob", i.e. grain eaten on while still on its cob.

    In Hungary the local "corn" is rye because historically that was the predominant cereal crop. In parts of Scotland it might have been oats. In much of Asia the corn is rice. In the Americas it was maize.

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  54. With a little preparation one could make "flour" out of all sorts of things - potatoes, cassava, bones, lotus roots, cattail, tree nuts, corms, tubers and bananas. Heck I could even come up with a meat-based flour with the right collection of hydrocolloid texturing agents.

    When you look closely the definition of "kitniyot" quickly loses its hard edges.

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  55. S, your comment to shlomo is quite ironic since this so-called custom contradicts the Talmud which permits rice on pesah. So really he is not "putting the talmud into exile" if he drops the mistaken kitniyoth practice, he is maximizing the importance of the Talmud which every Jew is supposed to live by.

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  56. > Chazal say that 'noshim daatan kalos'. What it means is that women have a non-agressive, pleasant nature and are not inclined to chumros.

    That’s certainly not the spin I learned in yeshiva. 'Noshim daatan kalos' is usually interpreted to mean that women are weak-minded. I like your interpretation much better than the traditional one, but given the time in which Chazal lived, I suspect that the traditional interpretation is closer to the authors’ intent.

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