Israel – The Kitniyos on Pesach issue is again in focus, after Rav Ovadya Yosef brought it up at his weekly shiur last motzei Shabbos.
Several Modern Orthodox rabbis affiliated with the Shilo Institute had issued a “psak halacha” two years ago claiming that the ban against Ashkenazim eating Kitniyos on Pesach is no longer in effect, since the ban’s reason was no longer relevant. As could be expected, many in the Modern Orthodox community rejoiced to be rid of the nuisance, while the chareidim ignored it as the latest Modern Orthodox aberration.
At his weekly shiur, however, Rav Ovadya confirmed the ancient Ashkenazi ban. “This is not a chumrah but the law,” he said. He asserted that if a Sephardi rav was asked about Pesach laws by an Ashkenazi, he would have to tell him to keep his minhag and it is forbidden to be lenient.
Concerning Sephardim, Rav Ovadya continued, “Whoever adopts such chumros, about him it is said ‘one who adds, detracts.’ Unfortunately, in our generation, it is as if we have two Torahs. There is the Torah of Rav Yosef Caro, which the Sephardim follow, and there is the Torah of the Rema, which the Ashkenazim follow.” He added, “The Ashkenazim have many more chumros than the Sephardim, and everyone has to follow whatever his community does.
“If a person will come and ask me, ‘I have a chocolate bar and don’t know if it has kitniyos in it or not,” Rav Ovadya gave an example, “if he is a Sephardi, I would tell him, ‘Go ahead and eat it! So what if there is kitniyos? But if he is an Ashkenazi? No way. Kitniyos is a problem… Everyone has to keep his minhagim. People have been keeping this minhag for over 600 years. Those who kept it were great people. What, we should tell them to give up their minhagim?”
Rav Ovadya explained how this Ashkenazi minhag came into being. In the old days, legumes, sugar etc. used to be packed in sacks that contained flour. Ashkenazim decided not to eat these items on Pesach out of the concern that some flour may have been mixed in which might leaven after coming into contact with water.
“Today it’s no problem to get beans in a clean package that had no flour in it”, he said, so Sephardim can buy these items without a special Pesach hechsher, as long as it has a regular kosher hechsher. “You don’t have to buy sugar that is Kosher for Pesach. It’s enough if it is just plain kosher. There’s nothing there but sugar. Plain sugar is kosher l’mehadrin.”