Vegans on Pesach

Insights on Torah Judaism.

Rabbi Dr. Raymond Apple

Judaism dried fruit
dried fruit

Q. What should vegans do on Pesach?

A. Since vegans consume no meat, fish, eggs, honey, butter or cow’s milk, their cuisine is already limited, and if they are Ashkenazim the rabbinic prohibition of "kitniyot" is a further complication.

The Torah prohibits as "chametz" anything containing wheat, rye, oats, spelt or barley.

Amongst Ashkenazim this prohibition is extended to "kitniyot", "little things": grain-like items like rice and legumes. Some communities put peanuts in this category; others allow peanut oil and also kitniyot derivatives.

Hence many vegan foods such as nuts, potatoes and vegetables (including quinoa) are kosher for Pesach.

Sephardim do not accept the kitniyot rule, so that, especially in Israel, many foods are acceptable for Sephardim but not Ashkenazim.

However, there are lenient opinions in relation to kitniyot that can be relied upon by the Ashkenazi vegan in cases of need (in consultation with a rabbi).

It should be added that regardless of one’s attitude to kitniyot, individuals should not decide for themselves what to eat on Pesach, as food technology is so complex that there can be admixtures which render an apparently innocent item chametz.


Q. I think I’ve worked out why Moses is left out of the Haggadah, He constantly questions God’s judgment. Maybe God was sorry He appointed him! Could I be right?

A. You might not believe it, but some midrashic sages actually said something similar.

Time after time, they point out, Moses tried to get out of his mission. He told God he was no speaker (Ex. 6:12). He felt he would not be able to explain God’s decisions to outsiders (Ex. 3:11). He was scared to face God (Ex. 3:10).

A work called "The Letters of Rabbi Akiva" says that when Moses said things like this the whole world reeled with shock.

Not so much because Moses was a heretic but that he was embarrassed by his past record and felt unworthy of the task to which he had been called.

He had not been brought up amongst the Israelites but at the royal palace, he had not suffered the rigours of enslavement, he had left Egypt and moved to Midian, he had married a gentile woman and led a non-Jewish life, and he felt quite unfitted to lead the Israelite people into their destiny.

When God gave him no choice but propelled him into Jewish leadership he was under constant challenge from the people and his own conscience. He was learning on the job and it was never a smooth passage.

Yet this was not really the reason for the omission of his name from the Haggadah. That was more likely to be in order to emphasise that the redemption of the Israelites was due to God, and Moses was not the actual redeemer but the earthly agent who carried out the Divine instructions.


Q. Was it fair to bring the Ten Plagues upon the ordinary Egyptians?

A. Rabbinic commentary is full of concern for the Egyptians.

The Midrash says that when the Israelites crossed the Red Sea on dry land and the Egyptian army drowned as the waters came flooding back, the angels in heaven were about to rejoice. But God stopped them and said, “The works of My hands are drowning in the sea, and you want to sing?”

The Bible says, “Rejoice not when your enemy falls; be not glad when he stumbles” (Prov. 24:17).

In relation to the Ten Plagues, once again the sages are careful not to gloat at the discomfiture of the ordinary Egyptians. They point out that it was the Egyptian gods whom the plagues attacked.

The Nile was worshipped as the source of life and prosperity, which is why its waters were turned to blood. The frogs were regarded as sacred and there was devastation when they were allowed to run everywhere. The earth was worshipped, as were its crops: hence locusts were sent to eat up every piece of vegetation.

The sun was a god, and it had to be checked by a plague of darkness. The first-born son of Pharaoh, regarded as divine, was attacked and killed.

Deities that could be defeated are gods that failed.