Pesach (illustration)
Pesach (illustration) Thinkstock

Rabbi Yaakov Ariel, rabbi of Israel's 11th-largest city, Ramat Gan, has strong criticism of the recent wave of Torah-based articles calling for the nullification of the centuries-old Ashkenazi custom of not eating legumes – known as kitniyot – on Passover.

Speaking with Arutz Sheva, Rabbi Ariel said that despite the various reasons brought for lifting the ban, "many of those behind the trend are simply looking for a way to weaken the Halachic system – and it starts with uprooting customs."

The ban on eating legumes such as corn, rice and beans came about as an extension of the Biblical ban on eating chametz on Passover. Chametz is leaven made from wheat, spelt, barley, oats or rye; matzah made of these is permitted, as long as it was baked before the grain had a chance to become leaven.

Kitniyot were forbidden for three possible reasons: They are harvested and processed in a manner similar to chametz, flour made from them is baked just like chametz; kitniyot grains are likely to be mixed into chametz grains.

Today, however, many feel that there is no room for such confusion, and the ban should be lifted. Rabbi Ariel responded to their various claims one by one, but gave this introduction: "The custom has been long accepted by the Jews of Morocco and Ashkenaz, and I would like to say something very grave: Uprooting a custom that is accepted so widely among Jews for centuries can lead in the end to the uprooting of the entire Torah, Heaven forbid."

"No one can say that there is not enough to eat on Pesach," the rabbi said. "In the past, when this claim might have been made, there were some rabbis who permitted eating kitniyot for that reason – but today, this is clearly not a problem."

"It is claimed as well that if Ashkeanzim don't eat kitniyot when visiting Sephardic relatives, family tensions arise. This is not a valid point. There are many who don't eat white rice all year round, and yet no one is insulted by this. It need not be a problem if some people eat rice and others eat potatoes…"

"Yes, there is a commandment to be happy on the holiday," Rabbi Ariel said, "but to allow kitniyot for that reason is total nonsense. People exaggerate purposely, saying that all sorts of oils are forbidden – when in fact, canola oil is permitted, as is cottonseed oil and olive oil. And even if someone ate soybean oil by mistake, this is no problem, according to the Shulhan Aruch."

"The Reform movement began with small things: musical instruments in the synagogue and prayers in the German language. But the purpose was to uproot the entire Halachah. There are those today, as well – not everyone, of course – who wish to do the same, and we must remain on guard. The kitniyot custom today is just as relevant as it always was."