Quinoa on Pesach (again)

I have pitputed about this in the past. At the OU, the two senior Poskim are Rav Hershel Schachter and Rav Yisroel Belsky. They agree on most things. Let me state first, that my personal posek (on matters that are complex and/or not clear in Shulchan Aruch etc) is Rav Schachter, so I do have a bias. On very rare occasions, I have not “understood” the reasoning of a Psak, but I am not a Posek, and he is, and so I listen. That’s our Mesora. That’s what we are meant to do.

As the article from the JTA below shows, they disagree on Quinoa. My earlier views on this matter happily are consonant with Rav Schachter’s Psak. The OU however as a policy will follow the stricter opinion of the two Rabonim disagree. There is in fact a private kuntres, in the spirit of Milchamto Shel Torah, where the two give formal Psokim and their reasoning, for the occasions where they disagree. I haven’t seen it. The kuntres is only available to recognised Rabonim who are formally or informally affiliated with the OU standards.

Kosher Australia (correctly in my opinion) advises people to check with their own Rabbi about Kitniyos, and notes that it doesn’t approve/use Quinoa in any of its own supervised products for Pesach.

Personally, if someone in Melbourne, brought in supervised Quinoa (eg from the Star K), I’d have absolutely no problem consuming it.

By Chavie Lieber · March 11, 2013

NEW YORK (JTA) — On any given day, a wind might blow through the farmlands of South America, pick up an errant grain of barley and deposit it nearby among the vast rows of cultivated quinoa. If that barley manages to make its way into a sifted batch of quinoa, and avoid detection during repackaging, it could wind up gracing your seder table on Passover night.

However dubious it might seem, the scenario is among the reasons that the world’s largest kosher certification agency is refusing to sanction quinoa for Passover consumption, potentially depriving Jewish consumers of a high-fiber, protein-rich staple that many have come to rely on during the weeklong holiday.

The Orthodox Union announced last year that it would not certify quinoa as kosher for Passover out of concern that quinoa falls into the category of kitniyot, a group of legumes forbidden because they look similar to grains proscribed on the holiday.

Menachem Genack, the CEO of O.U. Kosher, also cited the danger of quinoa crops grown in close proximity to wheat and barley fields.

Star-K, a rival kosher certification company based in Baltimore, has been certifying quinoa as Passover-friendly for years and dismisses what it sees as an outlandish prohibition.

“Rav Moshe Feinstein said we weren’t to add on to the rules of kitniyot, so I don’t know why anyone would,” said Rabbi Tzvi Rosen of Star-K, referring to the esteemed decisor of Jewish religious law who died in 1986. “And what’s more telling of this ridiculous debate is that quinoa is a seed, not a legume.”

Long a staple of the Andean diet, quinoa has earned a reputation as “the mother of all grains,” celebrated for its high nutrient quality and as an alternative for those following a gluten-free diet. But quinoa is not a grain at all. It’s a member of the goosefoot family, and closely related to spinach and beets.

On Passover — when wheat, oats, rye, spelt and barley are all prohibited — quinoa has emerged as a popular substitute.

That could change, however, with the world’s major kosher certifier refusing to give quinoa its Passover seal of approval.

“We can’t certify quinoa because it looks like a grain and people might get confused,” Genack said. “It’s a disputed food, so we can’t hold an opinion, and we don’t certify it. Those who rely on the O.U. for a kashrut just won’t have quinoa on Passover.”

The O.U.’s non-endorsement is the result of a debate within the organization’s own ranks.

Rabbi Yisroel Belsky, the head of Brooklyn’s Yeshiva Torah Vodaas and a consulting rabbi for the O.U., maintains that quinoa qualifies as kitniyot because it’s used in a manner similar to forbidden grains. Rabbi Hershel Schachter, one of the heads of Yeshiva University’s rabbinical school and also an O.U. consultant, agrees with Rosen that the category of kitniyot should not be expanded.

Rosen said the Star-K certifies only the quinoa that has no other grains growing nearby. This year, for the first time, the company sent supervisors to South America to supervise the harvesting, sifting and packaging of the product.

“Whenever there’s a new age food, there’s always a fight between kosher factions,” Rosen said. “But we should be worrying about other things, like all the cookies, pizzas and noodles that are Passover certified but appear to be chametz. Quinoa is the least of our problems.”

The O.U. is recommending that kosher consumers look to their local rabbis for guidance on the quinoa question. But for Eve Becker, risking a rabbinic prohibition on a staple food probably won’t sit too well in her house. A Jewish food blogger who maintains a strictly gluten-free kitchen because her daughter has Celiac disease, Becker said quinoa is one of the most important foods.

“It’s a tiny powerhouse packed with protein, vitamins and minerals, and it’s an important grain alternative, especially on Passover,” Becker said. “It’s great to have it on Passover instead of the usual potatoes, potatoes, potatoes. Most of the Passover foods just end up tasting like Passover, so we rely on quinoa to be that side staple.”

Ilana S., a mother of two who lives on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, said she trusts the O.U. and will refrain, begrudingly, from buying quinoa this Passover.

“These rabbis are always changing their minds, so I’m confident they’ll have a new statement next year,” she said. “Until then, its only eight days.”

Author: pitputim

I'm a computer science professor in Melbourne, Australia. I skylark as the band leader/singer for the Schnapps band. My high schooling was in Chabad and I continued at Yeshivat Kerem B'Yavneh in Israel.

12 thoughts on “Quinoa on Pesach (again)”

  1. As has been mentioned Quinoa is a seed and not a grain or a legume. That in itself doesn’t qualify it as kitniyot. Kitniyot itself does not have a clearly defined definition. (For that matter nor does chometz!)

    Because of its supposed similarity with traditional grains it was decided to ‘outlaw’ it, much like rice. How similar is it. Looks a bit like chick peas or lentils which are genuine legumes/kitniyot but that does not make them like grains.

    Do farmers of quinoa also harvest traditional grains? Is there a real danger of the scenario depicted at the beginning of this post actually occurring? or is it rabbinical authority trying to reach too far?

    Here’s a thought: Under Ezra Hasofer there was enacted a decree that men should bath regularly in a mikveh. The populace found this decree too hard and therefore it ‘fell by the wayside’.
    I am not advocating mutiny but if the (orthodox) contemporary populace were to find this new addition to the list of kitniyot ‘too hard’ what would be the OU’s response?

    The argument between Rav Belsky and Rav Schacter comes down to an argument between the spirit of the law versus the letter of the law. We wait to see how this will pan out. This is still a debate in progress.

    Wishing you all a Kosher Pesach v’same’ach.

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    1. It’s not about spirit or letter. There is no such thing as spirit if the law when it comes to a Gezera. Furthermore, the argument about flour is a non starter. Have you seen potato flower … the Chayei Adam wanted to ban potatoes as well, but his view was not accepted.

      We do not need new Gezeyros. If Quinoa is supervised, that’s the end if it. It simply wasn’t in the Gezera and could never have been which means that there has never been a tradition about its use. I’m with Rav Schachter who is very much a Mesora style Posek and isn’t one to create new Mesoras

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      1. The Chayei Odom did not want to ban potatoes. This is a baseless myth.

        And the fact that quinoa is a seed and not a grain is irrelevant. The exact same thing is true of buckwheat, which is the ultimate in kitniyos.

        I see no grounds at all to distinguish between quinoa and buckwheat, unless one accepts R Moshe’s chidush that the issur applied to specific species, rather than categories, and therefore any species that wasn’t know then isn’t covered. This has several problems with it. First of all, it would exclude corn, which all the acharonim who knew of it agree is kitniyos. I think R Moshe may not have known that corn is a new world species.

        Second, the basis of R Moshe’s argument is that if the issur were on categories rather than individual species then mustard would not be kitniyos; the fact that it is means that the issur was applied to a specific list of species, and mustard happened to be on that list. But the Taz specifically addresses this and says that mustard is forbidden, even though the reasons for the issur don’t apply to it, precisely because it does fall into the category of kitniyos,

        The Marcheshes also says explicitly that the gezera was against broad categories of species, even if the reasons don’t apply to some members of those categories. The Melamed Leho’il writes that peanuts are kitniyos, though he was willing to permit their oil if the rabbonim of Hamburg and Posen would join him.

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        1. I’m not sure your analysis of R’ Moshe is correct. He was never going to argue about Kitniyos upon which there was already an existing Issur. Rather, on new items, he was not prepared to Assur them based on his analysis of what he thinks the Issur was. I don’t see that as illogical unless one assumes Chadash Assur Min HaTorah.

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          1. R Moshe’s whole claim is that the issur was on an arbitrary list of specific species. That’s why he says no new species can be added. If that is so, then corn must be mutar. How can corn be assur, leshitaso?

            You say “he was not prepared to asser” new items. It was not up to him to asser. Nobody asked him to. Either they are already assur, or they are not. He was asked about peanuts, and he reasoned that they aren’t assur because they weren’t known when the original issur was made. If so, then corn must not be assur either. I think he simply didn’t know that corn is a new world species. Otherwise his whole theory makes no sense.

            His proof from mustard falls apart as soon as you see the Taz.

            And his whole shitah, that the issur was on specific species, is explicitly contradicted by the Marcheshes, the Melamed Leho’il, implicitly by the Taz, and several other sources that I can’t remember offhand.

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            1. His son in law was always consulted on matters of science. I highly doubt the statement about corn. Ren Moshe would generally not go back in time and be mattir or oiser even if his Psak was otherwise …

              Peanuts and Quinoa however were new beryos for him so he felt ‘free’ to pasken without any monkey on his shoulder.

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      1. Exactly. It’s just like any other machlokes between poskim; de’ovad kemar ovad, ud’ovad kemar ovad. Just don’t go kula-shopping. If you accept a posek’s kulos you have to accept his chumros too.

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        1. Unless the Posek tells you explicitly that ‘this is the minhag’

          I have Piskei Rav Belsky and I was astounded at the number of Poskim where he quotes opinions for and against and then says the oilom seems to have accepted this opinion.

          To me, this isn’t what I look for in a Posek. Rav Schachter almost always decides based on clean Psak. Only occasionally (if there is some chashash D’Orayso does he not pasken in the way he thinks is oysgehalten.

          This isn’t a about Pesach. Rav Belsky (and many others) do this a lot.

          That’s not to say he doesn’t go out on a limb. Eg worms in fish etc

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  2. Schachter Claims Student Rumors Lead to Jail With ‘Shvartze’

    Read more: http://forward.com/articles/172957/yeshiva-rabbi-bluntly-warns-sex-abuse-reports-put/?p=all#ixzz2NlppFBG2

    By Paul Berger Published March 14, 2013

    A top rabbinic dean of Yeshiva University has warned rabbis about the dangers of reporting child sex abuse allegations to the police because it could result in a Jew being jailed with a black inmate, or as he put it, “a schvartze,” who might want to kill him.

    Rabbi Hershel Schachter, one of the most respected faculty members of the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary, also said that children can lie and ruin an innocent man’s life.

    “It could be that the whole thing is a bubbe-mayse [tall tale],” Schachter said.

    Schachter said Jewish communities should establish panels of rabbis who are also psychologists to first hear such allegations and decide if law authorities should be informed.

    Schachter, whose taped remarks were posted on the Failed Messiah website, said a student at Yeshiva University’s high school in Manhattan confided in him years ago that he had been abused.

    Schachter said that he asked the student to tell his story to a rabbi who served as the school psychologist, but the child refused because of the humiliation it could bring on his family.

    He said he did not report the abuse to the authorities because he could not be sure the allegations were true.

    “So now, 40 years later, the guy’s spilling everything out to the newspaper,” Schachter said in the recording.

    Schachter then suggested it was the former student’s fault if more children were harmed because he refused to speak to the psychologist.

    He appeared to be referring to Simeon Weber, a former Y.U. high school student who, in previous interviews, told the Forward that he informed Schachter he had been abused by a Y.U. administrator, Rabbi George Finkelstein.

    However, there were discrepancies between Schachter’s and Weber’s recollections. Weber said he told Schachter about Finkelstein after he left Y.U.’s high school, when he was a Yeshiva College student, during the early 1980s. He also had no memory of being asked to see a school psychologist.

    When asked to comment on Schachter’s remarks, Weber stuck to a carefully worded statement.

    “I had the privilege of learning torah with Harav Hershel Schachter for four years,” Weber said. “Though I was far from his best student, I treated him with reverence [and] with the respect due to a true Gadol B’Yisroel [giant of torah].”

    Weber added: “Though I am deeply hurt by my rebbe’s comments, my underlying feelings of respect and fond memories of our deep relationship require me to say no more than that the issue itself has to be addressed by those greater than me.”

    Yeshiva University has been embroiled in a mounting scandal following a series of reports in the Forward since December about abuse allegations against two former staff members at Yeshiva University’s high school for boys in Manhattan.

    Several former students have told the Forward that they were sodomized by Rabbi Macy Gordon, a Talmud teacher employed at the school until the mid 1980s. More than a dozen students have complained of inappropriate behavior by Finkelstein who rose to school principal before he resigned in 1995.

    Finkelstein was notorious for forcing students to wrestle with him in a school office and at his home. Several students told the Forward they could feel his erect penis grinding up against them during the wrestling sessions.

    Schachter has not returned multiple calls and emails for comment since December, including attempts to seek an explanation for his recent remarks. Finkelstein and Gordon have both denied the students’ allegations against them. Rabbi Norman Lamm, who was president of Yeshiva University until 2003, told the Forward in December that several staff members were allowed to leave quietly because of “improper sexual activity.”.

    Schachter told the New York Times, in December, that in addition to Finkelstein and Gordon he knew of another staff member who had been let go for similar reasons. He has never revealed the name of that member of staff.

    According to Failed Messiah, Schachter was recorded in February, speaking at a rabbinic conference in London, the same month that the U.K.’s United Synagogue held its annual retreat in the city. Two independent sources have confirmed to the Forward that the voice on the tape is, indeed, Schachter’s.

    Schachter told his audience that reporting abuse to the police or family service agency does not constitute mesirah — the traditional Jewish prohibition against informing on a fellow Jew to the secular authorities.

    But Schachter emphasized that Jewish communities nevertheless had to first make sure children were telling the truth before going to law enforcement authorities. He cited several instances in America and in Israel in which he said false accusations were made.

    Every community, said Schachter, needs a board of “talmida chachamim” —Torah scholars — who are also qualified psychologists who could interview victims to see if there is “raglayim la’davar” — or reasonable suspicion — of abuse.

    He added: “Before you go to the police and before you got to family services, every community should have a board…to investigate whether there’s any raglayim la’davar or not.”

    Schachter went on to say that federal prisons are acceptable for Jewish convicts because they offer needed services, such as glatt kosher food.

    But, he added, Jews must be more careful where state prisons — to which the majority of sex offenders are sent — are concerned.

    Schachter told his audience that in state prisons “the warden in the prison can kill you. They can put you in a cell together with a shvartze, with a…black Muslim who wants to kill all the Jews.”

    A spokesman for YU said: “As with all universities, our faculty members are afforded freedom of speech and expression. Not all statements made by faculty members are consistent with the views of the University.

    “Any offensive or derogatory comments about any people or groups are inconsistent with the values or mission of Yeshiva University.”

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    1. I will respond to this in some detail when I have some time. People need to have heard the tens if shiurim from him on this topic to understand and not the sound byte published on the toilet blog

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