Monday, March 29, 2004

We talk about "building a fence around the Torah." When it comes to Passover, it's more like a mile-high fortress surrounded by a mile-wide moat and guarded by fire-breathing dragons.

Take kitniyot (kitniyos), foods that are not and cannot become chametz (leaven), but are forbidden according to Ashkenazi custom. Kitniyot fall into two categories. First, there are legumes, which, on account of their nitrogen-fixing properties, used to be grown alongside grains. As a result, is was impossible to harvest legumes without including a few grains. Then there are grains that are not among the five that can become chametz (wheat, rye, oats, barley and spelt). These are forbidden because their flour is difficult to distinguish from the flour of the problematic five.

Neither of these issues is particularly relevant today. The practice of growing legumes alongside grains was long ago replaced by a crop rotation system. Rice flour comes in packages labeled "rice flour," so it is difficult to mistake it for anything else. The same applies to the flour of corn and other grains. Corn on the cob, corn oil, and corn syrup are should be even less problematic.

Yet, the list of kitniyot seems to expand every year. In spite of R. Moshe Feinstein's position, legumes that were unknown in Eastern Europe, such as peanuts, are now forbidden. Then there are products such as sesame and mustard, which are forbidden because they resemble other kitniyot. Hardly anyone accepts the position that derivatives of kitniyot, such as oils, are permitted. Kitniyot are, for most practical purposes, treated as chametz.

Kitniyot are only the tip of the iceburg. At this time of year, you'll find generally reasonable people "kashering" their doorknobs and lining their walls with aluminum foil. You'll find people pre-buying milk, in case the cow that it came from ate one of the forbidden grains. Charedim in Israel will set aside bottles of tap water, in case the Sea of Galilee was contaminated by a fisherman eating a sandwhich. (Sephardim will use filters.) People will pre-wash their mushrooms. Women will sell their makeup. Meredith will probably kasher her hair iron.

The worst aspect of this insanity is that, in practice, I buy into it wholesale. The obsessive-compulsive tendencies that I criticize in other Jews year round suddenly become my own. Yesterday, I insisted that we buy tea and olive oil that were certified for Passover. Now I'm worried about my bottled water. (I've heard that the caps are sometimes sealed with chametz.) Even worse, I've been reading the Star-K website:

As Pesach nears, the grocery bills mount and the bank account dwindles, the Jewish housewife courageously attempts to hold the household budget intact without compromising her strict standard of Pesach Kashrus.

That's what I need! A Jewish housewife! Where can I get one?

Can the Passover consumer confidently purchase fresh fruits and vegetables without worrying about the wax coatings used to maintain the freshness of the fresh fruit and vegetables? Our research of food grade waxes has shown that soy proteins may be used as a thickener in some waxes. This means that the waxes may contain Kitniyos derivative [sic!].

Kitniyot derivatives? Nooooooooooooooo!

However, since the soy protein would be Batul Brov, [sic!] it is a minor ingredient, which would be permissible on Pesach, and would not pose a problem to [sic!] supermarket fruits and vegetables.

I've heard otherwise. Shoot. Now I can't trust the Star-K.

Fresh Peeled or Value Added Vegetables, such as peeled potatoes, carrots, or celery in plastic pails, or in plastic bags, has become a real favorite among housewives. It is fresh, clean, a time saver, and seemingly free of Kosher for Passover concerns. SAVE ONE. How do you retard browning, i.e. oxidation, so that the vegetables retain their fresh appearance? Some companies use metabisulfites, which are Kosher for Pesach, [sic!] other companies use citric acid, which would require Kosher L'Pesach Certification.

Fotunately, I have never even considered buying pre-peeled vegetables on Passover. (Seriously.)

It goes without saying that leafy vegetables going through a clean and wash system would require strict Hashgacha on their cleaning system insuring the consumer that the system effectively removes insects which are forbidden year round.

Wait -- leafy vegetables can be kosher? Now I really don't trust the Star-K.

In spite of its glaring leniencies, this website did help me avert a near disaster. As DH and I were trying to cut down on our list of products to buy in Brookline yesterday, he suggested that it might be all right to buy uncertified honey at our local supermarket. (Now he assures me that he would have done some research before making any such purchase.) I quickly rejoined that even honey marked 100% pure may be adulterated with trace amounts of kitniyot. ELF saves the day again!

All right, enough of this silliness. I have to start cleaning, or I may not have enough time to kasher the bathroom.

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