Stringent Ashkenazi Customs on Passover: Quinoa et al

This article also deals with married women covering their hair.

Rabbi Eliezer Melamed

Judaism צלחת פסח
צלחת פסח
פלאש 90

Quinoa for Ashkenazim on Passover

Q: Does quinoa fall under the general prohibition of kitniyot (legumes) on Passover according to the minhag (custom) of Ashkenazim?

A: Some authorities are machmir (stringent), because in appearance, the particles resemble types of kitniyot. Others are lenient, because the custom that forbids kitniyot does not apply to foods discovered after the custom was instituted and people (other than Indian tribes) began eating quinoa only in recent years. In addition, quinoa particles are much smaller than types of grains, and thus are easily distinguishable.

In practice, someone who is stringent "tavo alav bracha" (pious conduct for which one is blessed for being stringent), and one who wishes to act leniently has authoritative rabbinic opinion upon which he can rely, provided he checks the quinoa well for other grains that may have been mixed in inadvertently.

The Custom of Kitniyot Today

Q: Is there still justification to be stringent about the custom of kitniyot today?

A: This question is a no-brainer. All of the reasons that people were careful to be stringent in the past remain firm and binding. If anything has changed, it would be in the direction of justifying the prohibition, because today, the concern that grains and legumes might be mixed is even greater than it was years ago, since both are stored in the same place –  grains when they are processed and then kitniyot , and they are transported in the same containers, without them being cleaned in the interval. Even the grinding of the two different species is done in the same place.

Nevertheless, since there is no source for this minhag in the Talmud, Sephardim who eat kitniyot should not be encouraged to be stringent.

As far as kitniyot restrictions and prohibitions are concerned, some authorities in recent generations were stringent beyond the requirement of the underlying principle of the minhag, however the halakha does not follow their opinions, as I have written in “Peninei Halakha: Pesach”, chapter nine.

Soft Matzah for Ashkenazim

Q: Are Ashkenazim allowed to eat soft matzahs as do Yemenites and some other Sephardic groups?

A: According to ikar hadin (the essence of the law), there is no halakhic requirement for matzot to be hard. Nevertheless, Ashkenazim were accustomed to eat hard matzot for two reasons.

First, hard matzot can be kept fresh for a long time, and thus, can be prepared before Passover for the duration of the entire holiday. This is halakhically advantageous, because when baking matzot before Passover, even if chametz gets mixed in with them, as long as it is less than one-sixtieth of the whole, it is nullified, and may be eaten on Passover. But if such a mixture occurred on Passover, the matzot are forbidden, because on Passover, chametz is forbidden be’kol she’hu (even in the slightest amount).

Second, the ability to know if the matzah was not baked properly and has become chametz depends on stringiness of the uncooked dough. In hard matzot this is very evident, but in soft matzot, it requires more expertise.

Since this minhag also has halakhic advantages, it should not be abandoned unnecessarily. However, in pressing situations, since it has not been ruled as an obligatory custom, one can be lenient.

Second Day of Yom Tov for those who Live Abroad but Study in Israel

Q:  Do students who live abroad but are learning in Israel for a year have to keep two days of Yom Tov?

A: Some poskim (Jewish law arbiters) are of the opinion that a ben Chutz La-Aretz (one who lives outside of Israel) who came to Israel for a visit, is considered a ben Eretz Yisrael  [a “resident” of Israel] (Chacham Tzvi, 167; Shulchan Aruch HaRav, 496:11)  for the duration of his stay. But according to most poskim, since his place of residence is in Chutz La-Aretz, even when visiting Israel, he is considered a ben Chutz La-Aretz (Birkei Yosef, 496:7; Mishna Berura 496:13). Since the minhag is to be stringent, this is the halakha.

However, this din (law) changes when there is an additional doubt, safek, such as when the visitor to Israel plans on staying for an extended period of time, or has plans to make aliyah (emigrate to Israel), or has children living in Israel. In such situations we take into consideration the opinion of those poskim who say a visitor to Israel should always observe one day, plus the fact that in recent generations, the chances of Jews visiting Israel deciding to make aliyah have increased; therefore, such a visitor is instructed to observe one day, according to the minhag of Eretz Yisrael.

Consequently, students who come to Israel for a study year (approximately ten months) are considered bnei Eretz Yisrael, and even if they have clear plans to return and live with their parents in Chutz La-Aretz, their lengthy stay in Israel makes them bnei Eretz Yisrael for the duration of their stay. Additionally, there is always a chance they will decide to emigrate.

Moreover, it appears to me that after this, whenever such students come to Israel for a visit, for the entire duration of their stay, they will be considered bnei Eretz Yisrael, because after spending a year in the country, to a certain extent, they are regarded as residents. Therefore, when they are in Israel, they should keep one day of Yom Tov. However, while abroad, seeing as that is their permanent home, they are required to keep two days of Yom Tov (see, Peninei Halakha: Mo’adim, chap. 9).

A Married Woman’s Obligation to Cover Her Head

Q: Is it true there is a heter (permission) for a married woman not to cover her head?

A: A married woman is obligated to cover her head. From the Talmud (Ketubot 72a) it emerges that the source for this is comes from the Torah, for in regards to a sotah (a woman suspected of adultery), the Torah says: “The priest shall stand the woman before God and uncover her hair” (Numbers 5:18) – so as to shame her, and hence, from the Torah, a married woman’s hair must always be gathered (Meiri, Rashbatz, Ri’az). (The word in the verse translated as "uncover" can also mean "loosen".) 

Our Sages said that according to the Torah, it is sufficient for the woman’s hair to be gathered in a net or a small pouch, but the Sages added on to this, determining that gathering the hair in a netted kerchief was not sufficient; rather, it should be covered with a non-transparent kerchief. Some authorities say the law concerning covering the head is entirely of rabbinic status (Terumat Hadeshen, 242 in the interpretation of Rambam).

This is the opinion of all the poskim. However, there are a few individual poskim who are of the opinion that the basis of covering the head depends upon minhag, and after seeing that most of the woman where they lived stopped covering their heads and after all the urging of their husbands did not help – they opined it was not prohibited, in spite of those poskim expressing their regret about it, .

This is the opinion of Rabbi Yosef Messas (Mayim Chayim 2:110) and Rabbi Moshe Malka (Ve’Haysheve Moshe 34). However, Rabbi Malka wrote that the heter applies only when the hair is gathered, as when it is unbound, it is a Torah prohibition. From the words of Rabbi Yosef Messas, he also agrees with this (Otzar Hamichtavim 3, 884).

It must be pointed out that they spoke in a time when it seemed that, as a result of the influence of French trends on the women of Morocco, the custom of covering the head was about to disappear from the world completely, and even the wives of the ritual slaughterers and rabbis no longer listened to their husbands and uncovered their heads – therefore, they were required to find a heter for the women’s practice.

However, conceivably, if they were here with us today, and saw that the majority of religious women cover their heads and are proud of it – some of them senior doctors and scientists – they would reason that the minhag is binding for all married women, and its fulfillment entails a kiddush Hashem (sanctification of God) and a safeguard from secular influences.

The Practical Halakha

In any event, the opinion of the rest of the poskim is that covering the head is absolutely obligatory. And although Rabbi Yosef Messas ztz”l was one of the eminent poskim in his generation, possessing a broad and deep Torah outlook – his opinion cannot be relied upon, even in pressing situations, because the obligatory position is held by thousands of poskim as opposed to a few individuals, and in such a case, the few individual opinions are not even taken into account.

The Opinion of Rabbi Messas Concerning Family Planning

It is worth noting here the position of Rabbi Yosef Messas concerning the question of family planning, according to which it is obligatory to have as many children as possible, and only when a God-fearing doctor feels there is a danger, can pregnancy be prevented (see further, Otzar Hamichtavim 3, 638). Rabbi Messas summed up a question he was asked as follows:

“You asked: People who have four or more children, and have already fulfilled the mitzvah of ‘be fruitful and multiply’ with sons and daughters, and in all matters the economic situation is very difficult, and great weakness has descended to the world, and it is very hard to raise a lot of children, and even our Ashkenazi brothers make fun of our having a lot of children. Therefore, you ask if it’s permitted to use some modern-day methods to prevent birth.

“Answer: Know, my son, even if a man has fulfilled the mitzvah of ‘be fruitful and multiply’, as long as the couple are healthy and able to have children, they are obligated by divrei sofrim (Rabbinical law) to do so, as Rambam wrote in chapter fifteen of Hilchot Ishut, halakha 16:

“Although a man has fulfilled the mitzvah of being fruitful and multiplying, he is bound by a Rabbinic commandment not to refrain from being fruitful and multiplying as long as he is physically potent. For anyone who adds a soul to the Jewish people is looked upon as if he has built an entire world.”

This is also stated in the Tractate Yevamot 62b.

“In my humble opinion, it seems as if it is a mitzvah from the Torah, for the verse says “Now be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth and become populous on it” (Genesis 9:7) – what is the meaning of “fill the earth”, if not as it is said – even if you have fulfilled ‘be fruitful and multiply’, you are not exempt from giving birth, rather, ‘fill the earth’…and Malbim z”l explains regarding “fill the earth” – that this is additional procreation, “and become populous on it” – grow in strength and fortitude, end of quote.

“We have seen for ourselves how many people have had children after fulfilling “be fruitful and multiply” who were superior, both physically and spiritually. Therefore, we should not deceive ourselves with foolish claims. For if the claim is because of parnasa (making a livelihood), indeed we must have faith that God feeds and sustains all, as our Sages said ‘each baby comes with a loaf of bread in his hand’. And if the claim is about fatigue, one is not exempt because of this – only if an expert, religious, and God-fearing doctor decides that pregnancy is dangerous. Besides this, we cannot make up new claims on our own.

“And regarding the ridicule of our complacent Ashkenazi brothers concerning those who have many children – the only ones mocking are the bullies among them, male and female, who supervise and work in the medical and maternity clinics...! But the pious Ashkenazim – in their eyes, the more children the better, and they are praised with abundant blessings. And at the Grand Assembly of rabbis held in Jerusalem on Tuesday, 18th of Adar I (1967), the rabbis greatly condemned those who have fewer children, and praised and blessed those who have more…”

An Addition to His Comments

It should be noted that in this issue, Rabbi Messas was one of the machmerim (stringent rabbis), and there are authorities who are lenient on preventing pregnancy after having four or five children; the accepted instruction is that it is appropriate to prevent pregnancy after each birth for nine months to a year. With God’s help, I will clarify this issue in the future.

In any event, it would be fitting for women who rely on the opinion of Rabbi Messas with regard to covering one's head, to honor his opinion about family planning, or at least encourage as best they can those who do have many children.

Redemption from Egypt and the Future Redemption

Our Sages said: “Just as Israel was redeemed from Egypt in the merit of proliferating, likewise, they will be redeemed in the future… Israel will be redeemed only if they proliferate and fill the entire the world, as it is said: “For you shall break forth on the right hand and on the left; and your seed shall possess nations, and cause desolate cities to be inhabited” (Eliyahu Zuta 14), speedily in our days.

This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper, and was translated from Hebrew.