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21.03.2011 19:15    Comments: 1    Categories: Kosher For Passover      Tags: torah  passover  halachah  custom  

Rabbi Dr.E.CowenRice on Passover; It’s a Sephardic Thing! Or is it?

It’s 1968, Passover is around the corner, and the new Chief Rabbi of Tel Aviv, Rabbi
Ovadiah Yosef, notices signs posted outside grocery food stores; in large print “Rice
is Prohibited on Passover” and in small print are written the words, “except for those of
Sephardic descent.”

It is clear from the Talmud that rice is permissible for consumption on Pesah. The
Gemara in Masechet Pesahim (120b) relates that Rava, one of the Amora’im, would
eat “Aroza” (rice) at the Seder as one of the foods eaten to commemorate the
sacrifices that were offered in the Temple on Pesah night. Furthermore, the Gemara
addresses the question of whether one may fulfill the Mitsva of Matsa by eating bread
made from rice. The Gemara rules that one does not fulfill the Mitsva with this kind
of Matsa, because rice is not included among the five principal grains. Clearly, the
Gemara accepted the premise that rice does not constitute Hametz, and it disqualified
rice for Matsa only because the Matsa must be made from one of the five grains.
Fundamentally, then, there is no question that rice is permissible on Pesah and is not
considered Hametz.

Thus, Rabbi Yosef Karo (1488-1575) in his commentary on Rabbi Yaakov Ben Asher’s
(1268-1340) code of Jewish Law know as the Tur (code #453) quotes the words of
Rabbeinu Yerucham, an early Ashkenazic halachic authority (1287-1350); “for those
who are accustomed not to eat rice and various legumes cooked on Pesah, this is
a “minhag shtut” (foolish minhag), unless they are doing so to be stringent, and I did not
know why.” Furthermore, Rabbi Meir of Rothenberg (1237-1299) presenting Ashkenazic
practices in his commentary on Maimonides’ code of Jewish Law writes, “Even children
at the elementary level know that rice and legumes do not come to be leavened. Only
because kernels of wheat are mixed in among them and it is not possible to separate
them well, the custom has been to be stringent...”

The custom among many communities not to eat rice on Pesah began two or three
centuries ago, when the concern arose that some wheat kernels might have been
mixed together with the rice. It became common in some countries for wheat fields
and rice fields to be situated near one another, and often the same bags were used for
the collection of the wheat and the rice. The bags were not always carefully cleaned in
between the collections, and it was therefore quite common for one to find kernels of
wheat in the packages of rice purchased at the grocery. For this reason, Ashkenazic
Jews accepted the custom not to eat rice on Pesah. In Sephardic lands, by and
large, there was no concern of wheat kernels being mixed with rice, and therefore the
Sepharadim, for the most part, did not accept this custom. A notable exception is the
Peri Hadash (Rav Hizkiya Da Silva, 1659-1698), a Sephardic Rabbi who was once
eating rice on Pesah and discovered a kernel of wheat mixed in with the rice. At that
moment, he took upon himself the custom to refrain from rice on Pesah.

Nevertheless, as mentioned, the accepted custom among most Sepharadim is to allow
eating rice on Pesah, on condition that it is first checked three times to ensure that
there are no wheat kernels. It does happen on occasion that wheat kernels make their
way into packages of rice, and therefore one may not eat rice on Pesah unless it has
been carefully inspected. One spreads the rice out on a white surface, so that any
dark kernels will be visible and evident, and he/she checks the rice three times. It is
preferable not to perform all three inspections in immediate succession, as one may
grow fatigued after the first or second time and not inspect properly. One may not trust a minor below the age of Bar Mitsva or Bat Mitsva to perform this inspection.

Ashkenazim must follow their ancestors’ custom not to eat rice on Pesah. Although the
Hacham Sevi (Rabbi Tzvi Ashkenazi of Amsterdam, 1660-1718) wrote that he would
abolish this custom if he had the authority to do so, since rice was a basic staple. He
also felt that this was a stringency leading to a leniency and could result in a complete
transgression of eating Hametz on Pesah. This stringency would bring about the
necessity of baking large quantities of Matsa and carelessness in the baking process
could possibly result in in the overt consumption of Hametz on Pesah. Nevertheless, the
custom was accepted by all Ashkenazic communities, and Ashkenazim are therefore
bound by this prohibition. An Ashkenazi may, however, eat food that was cooked in a
pot that had been used for rice. Since even Ashkenazim do not actually consider rice
Hametz, they do not treat pots used for Hametz as Hametz pots.

Before you run out all excited to buy rice for Pesah, there are a couple more things to
consider. Most supermarket brands of rice are enriched. The enrichment is diluted with
starch in order to distribute it evenly on the rice. This can be a corn, rice, or a wheat
starch base. Care must be taken to buy only rice that has enrichment that is not mixed
with hametz. Enriched varieties that are mixed in a non-hametz starch are permissible.
Furthermore, in farm areas such as Arkansas, the crops are rotated yearly and it is very
common to find grain in rice fields. Although there is equipment to remove this, it is not
100%. So, check your rice carefully as outlined above.

It should be noted that organic, unenriched white rice and standard brands of white rice
that are kosher during the year such as Carolina, Goya, River, Riceland, Blue Diamond,
and Success are kosher for consumption on Pesah as well (after the appropriate
checking of course). Sugat brand from Israel is imported during this time and carries
a kosher for Passover designation that still requires checking. Consult with your
local Sephardic Rabbi for the latest up to date information (and just in case you were
wondering - I am not affiliated with any of these companies :)).

It’s now 1969 and Passover is around the corner. New signs are posted at grocery
food stores. The signs read in large print, “Rice is permitted on Pesah” and in small
print, “Ashkenazic custom is to refrain from eating rice on Pesah”. Happy and Kosher
Passover and enjoy your rice!

Rabbi Dr. Eytan M. Cowen received ordination both from Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef at the Sephardic Rabbinical College in Brooklyn, New York and at Yeshiva Univerisity’s Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary. He has also been practicing integrative medicine for the past 10 years. He is a noted lecturer and speaker in areas of health and well-being and Sephardic heritage and Jewish law.

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  •  CarolineSarah wrote 3012 Days Ago (neutral) 

    Wow! Can't wait to eat rice this Pessach! Thanks rabbi for these insights.

    1 point
1 votes

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