Eating Kitniyot (Legumes) on Pesach
In light of the ingathering of the exiles, would it be possible to eliminate the Ashkenazic custom of not eating legumes on Pesach?
1) In our opinion it is permitted (and perhaps even obligatory) to eliminate this custom. It is in direct contradiction to an explicit decision in the Babylonian Talmud (Pesachim 114b) and is also in contradiction to the opinion of all the sages of the Mishnah and Talmud except one (R.Yochanan ben Nuri, Pesahim 35a and parallels). It also contradicts the theory and the practice of the Amoraim both in Babylonia and in Israel (Pesahim 114b and other sources), the Geonim (Sheiltot, Halakhot Pesukot, Halakhot Gedolot, etc.) and of most of the early medieval authorities in all countries (altogether more than 50 Rishonim!).
2) This custom is mentioned for the first time in France and Provence in the beginning of the thirteenth century by R. Asher of Lunel, R. Samuel of Falaise, and R. Peretz of Corbeil – from there it spread to various countries and the list of prohibited foods continued to expand. Nevertheless, the reason for the custom was unknown and as a result many sages invented at least eleven different explanations for the custom. As a result, R. Samuel of Falaise, one of the first to mention it, referred to it as a “mistaken custom” and R. Yerucham called it a “foolish custom”.
3) Therefore, the main halakhic question in this case is whether it is permissible to do away with a mistaken or foolish custom. Many rabbinic authorities have ruled that it is permitted (and perhaps even obligatory) to do away with this type of “foolish custom” (R. Abin in Yerushalmi Pesahim, Maimonides, the Rosh, the Ribash, and many others). Furthermore, there are many good reasons to do away with this “foolish custom”:
a) It detracts from the joy of the holiday by limiting the number of permitted foods;
b) It causes exorbitant price rises, which result in “major financial loss” and, as is well known, “the Torah takes pity on the people of Israel’s money”;
c) It emphasizes the insignificant (legumes) and ignores the significant (hametz, which is forbidden from the five kinds of grain);
d) It causes people to scoff at the commandments in general and at the prohibition of hametz in particular – if this custom has no purpose and is observed, then there is no reason to observe other commandments;
e) Finally, it causes unnecessary divisions between Israel’s different ethnic groups. On the other hand, there is only one reason to observe this custom: the desire to preserve an old custom. Obviously, this desire does not override all that was mentioned above. Therefore, both Ashkenazim and Sephardim are permitted to eat legumes and rice on Pesah without fear of transgressing any prohibition.
4) Undoubtedly, there will be Ashkenazim who will want to stick to the “custom of their ancestors” even though they know that it is permitted to eat legumes on Pesah. To them we recommend that they observe only the original custom of not eating rice and legumes but that they use oil from legumes and all the other foods “forbidden” over the years, such as peas, beans, garlic, mustard, sunflower seeds, peanuts etc. Thus they will be able to eat hundreds of products, which bear the label “Kosher for Pesah for those who eat legumes.” This will make their lives easier and will add joy and pleasure to their observance of Pesah.