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Passover: The Feast of Freedom

15 Nisan - 22 Nisan
You were strangers in Egypt: Do not oppress the stranger
First Seder: April 3, 2015 (April 22, 2016) (April 10, 2017)
Sample Seder

  • Sell your hametz on line, through Koach, the Conservative movement's student wing. Visit the Koach web site for details. If you prefer human contact, your local shul will sell your hametz for you.
  • Passover Recipes
  • The Food Rules.
    • General Guidelines: The short explanation of the Passover food rules is that one must eat matzah at the seder and hametz is forbidden for all of Pesah: not just to eat, but even to have in your possession. Exodus 13:3.
      • Matza. Matzah symbolizes slavery and liberty, poverty and freedom from want, and is a reminder of the speed of the liberation from Egypt, as is explained in the Hagadah. Matzah is unleavened bread made of flour and water only. It must be baked within 18 minutes of when the flour first comes into contact with water; therefore matzah flour is guarded from harvest to ensure that it does not come into contact with water. Matzah can only be made from flour made from the five biblically forbidden grains (wheat, spelt, barley, oats, and rye), and can be made from any of them. Thus, one can find (with difficulty) spelt matzah, but the New World grain quinoa, which can be eaten freely on the holiday, can't be made into matzah. In addition to the usual machine-made brands, matzah comes in a hand-made (shmura) variety which is legally identical but tastes more like affliction. "Enriched" varieties (with egg or cider added) are permitted only to sick or weak people, according to most authorities, and taste lousy, according to most consumers.

        In Salt Lake City, machine-made matzahs are available in several supermarkets and at Kol Ami's Passover sale, and shmura matzah is available from Kol Ami and Chabad.

      • Hametz (pronounced with a gutteral or Semitic "h", as in "Chanuka" or "humus" and sometimes spelled chametz or chomets). Primary hametz is leavened bread and the five forbidden grains (wheat, spelt, barley, oats, and rye), unless they've been specially guarded to keep from becoming hametz (mainly by not allowing them to come into contact with water for more than 18 minutes). But that's not all. Any food that might have come into contact with hametz becomes itself secondary hametz. Therefore, people who keep Passover strictly
        • don't eat anything containing hametz or which might have come in contact with it,
        • use only ground-up matzah (matzah meal) for flour,
        • clean the house from top to bottom,
        • replace all open packages of food,
        • use dishes, pots and appliances that are only for Passover or re-kasher the ones they use during the year,
        • cover their food preparation and eating surfaces,
        • sell any hametz they may have missed, and
        • eat only food that has been prepared in a kosher-for-Passover kitchen
        all to ensure that they don't eat or own even secondary hametz.
      • Leavening, wine, beer, spirits, and vinegar. Hametz is a ritual, not a biological, category. Although English-language sources often refer to a ban on "leavening," this is incorrect. The ban is on the five prohibited grains, not yeast or fermentation. Thus, there are no special rules for wine or other alcoholic drinks. Kosher-for-Passover wine is just unopened kosher wine. Beer is not kosher for Passover because it is made from barley, but vodka (from potatoes) is traditional in Hasidic circles. Cider vinegar is permitted (and if you can find it, so is wine vinegar made from kosher wine or white vinegar made from a permitted grain).
      • Hechsher. A "kosher for Passover" marking means (in addition to the usual kosher rules) that the food does not contain primary hametz and that it was kept separate from any item that might contain hametz. In the US, but not in Israel, it normally also means that the item does not contain kitniyot (see below).

        Usually, this means there is no difference at all between kosher-for-Passover and ordinary kosher products for factory-produced foods that do not contain grain, grain derivitives or kitniyot. Kosher-for-Passover cheese and wine are just unopened kosher cheese and kosher wine. Kosher-for-Passover marshmallows usually are regular marshmallows with a certification from an authority who believes that gelatin is kosher and corn syrup is not kitniyot.

    • For more details, see:

    • The Kitniyot Controversy.

    • Since the Middle Ages, Ashkenazim, but not Sephardim, traditionally haven't eaten various foods known as "kitniyot" -- often mistranslated as "legumes" (the word itself comes from the root meaning "small," so "bits" might be a better translation) -- during Pesah. Kitniyot are not hametz and Ashkenazim who observe the ban on kitniyot are free to attend a seder at which they are served and eat food cooked in the same pot as kitniyot.

      Which foods exactly are kitniyot is a matter of some dispute, but generally kitniyot are small fleshless seeds of annual plants that someone might make into flour, and more precisely you must consult the list of your preferred halachic expert. Usually, lentils and dried beans, dried peas, rice, corn, sesame seeds and caraway seeds are kitniyot; but quinoa, potatoes and coffee are not. Peanuts, fresh peas and fresh green beans are controversial.

      The ban is considered a minhag -- a custom -- rather than a mitzvah and was called "foolish" by some early authorities, who note that it has no Talmudic basis, that the traditional justifications for the rule don't match what is actually classified as kitniyot, and that it distracts from the more important aspects of the holiday, such as, "do not oppress the stranger for you were strangers in Egypt." Most Ashkenazi Orthodox and traditional authorities disagree, on the ground that traditional stringencies should be accepted. However, due to these disagreements, some authorities say the kitniyot category should not be expanded to include:

      • new (or New World) foods (such as, e.g., peanuts, permitted by R. Moshe Feinstein, the leading modern Orthodox posek (legal decisionmaker)), or
      • derivative foods (such as oils made from kitniyot, permitted by Litvak poskim a century ago (e.g., the Netziv of Volozhin) but considered suspect in many Orthodox circles today).

      Other authorities, as one might expect, go the other direction. For example, the Remah, Orach Chaim 464, bars mustard because it is "similar" to kitniyot (although he permits anise and coriander seeds, id 453.)! Corn, despite its New World origin, seems to be resolutely fixed in the kitniyot category on the ground that its name in Yiddish (korn) is the same as rye. (Click for a detailed discussion of the traditional commentaries and some modern (Orthodox) views, a detailed dvar on kitniyot including many citations, Aish HaTorah's explanation of the kitniyot rules or a funny description of the problems of frum Pesah shopping in Israel).

      The Conservative movement in the US as a general principal accepts the Talmudic view that it is forbidden to create stringencies (humras). On this issue, however, it officially bars kitniyot generally, but allows peanuts and kitniyot-derived oils (see the RA Pesah Guide). The Conservative responsa's reasoning is not entirely clear (as is the case with everything regarding kitniyot): if the idea is not to expand a "foolish tradition," then presumably all the New World beans and grains - - including corn -- should be permissible along with all modern derivative products (oils, sweeteners). If the idea is that peanuts are not "legumes," as the Responsa states, the problem is deeper. First, unlike many other kitniyot, peanuts actually are legumes. More to the point, kitniyot is not a biologically based category (the traditional list of kitniyot includes grains (rice) and dried beans (peas, lentils), but allows fresh string beans). If the category is meant to reflect things that someone might confuse with prohibited flours (as the Smak contended in 13c France) or grains that are sometimes mixed with prohibited grains (as the Beit Yosef explained in 16c Israel), perhaps rice, corn and lentils ought to be barred, but why peas, corn oil or corn sweeteners? And, in a day and age when few people make their own flour, why bar whole rice, corn and lentils, none of which resembles flour at all? Indeed, is mixing really plausible in a modern inspected factory? Most importantly, why not ban potatoes, which Ashkenazim actually do use in pumpernickel bread?

      The Masorti (Conservative) movement in Israel ruled that the bar on kitniyot should not be observed in Israel at all (click for responsa text in Hebrew or English summary (Va'ad Ha Halakha, Vol. 3, R. David Golinkin)) because it is foolish and creates unnecessary distinctions between Sephardim and Ashkenazim and the majority custom (in Israel) ought to be followed. Rabbi Michael Lerner and Benjamin Mordecai Ben-Baruch urge the same result for the similar reasons in the US. Click for Lerner and Ben-Baruch opinions.

      -- Daniel Greenwood

  • Bibliography
    • Noam Zion and David Dishon, The Family Participation Haggadah--A Different Night (1997: Shalom Hartman Inst.). Email: Website: An elaborately annotated study haggadah to study and discuss. Despite the name, at the Seder it can be a little overwhelming unless you've done a good editing job before hand; the leader's guide has good suggestions.

  • More Pesach links and Hagadot
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