Shabbat Parashat Vayikra 5772
Ask the Rabbi: Vegans Keeping Kitniyot Rules on PesachRav Daniel Mann
Question: I am Ashkenazi and vegan. Many of the foods I normally depend on for my nutrition (e.g., soybeans, rice, corn, and other kitniyot) are prohibited on Pesach. This makes finding food to eat during Pesach very difficult and somewhat decreases my holiday joy. Is there any halachic allowance for vegans to eat kitniyot on Pesach?
Answer: One must distinguish between different levels of “kitniyot observance” and different reasons and degrees of veganism.
The main reasons for veganism are: 1) Ethical (the idea of using animals or concern for the inhumane treatment of commercially raised animals); 2) Health (the belief that a vegan diet is healthier); 3) Environmental (the various negative impact of mass raising of animals on the environment). 4) Emotional (the difficulty of eating something that comes from an animal).
All things being equal, vegans motivated by health or environmental concerns should make allowances in their vegan practice during Pesach if keeping the binding minhag of kitniyot harms their diet or significantly curtails their enjoyment on Pesach. A little flexibility for a short, well-defined time period need not compromise the general approach (barring special health concerns). On the other hand, many vegans can keep up their lifestyle only in an “all or nothing” manner. Such disciplined, idealistic people who take special steps to care for their bodies and the world (which the Torah encourages (see Devarim 4:15 and Bereishit 2:15)), deserve appropriate leniency. Those motivated by ethics or emotion are naturally are more likely to refuse partial exceptions. While we cannot expect all people to be vegans or vegetarians, there is a serious school of thought that vegetarianism is preferable (as Rav Kook wrote). Certainly in times where there are serious ethical/halachic concerns with the treatment of commercially raised animals, there is additional value in veganism.
Our general ruling is that, barring extreme circumstances, an Ashkenazi should continue the centuries-old practice of not eating kitniyot on Pesach. While there are dispensations for babies and sick people (Mishna Berura 453:7), a vegan has enough alternatives to be able to avoid kiniyot. However, the rule (with exceptions) is to be lenient regarding questions regarding kitniyot and we believe that many vegans (see above) have the right to follow the most lenient opinions on kitniyot.
We will mention the major areas in which a vegan may be lenient (see Bemareh Habazak IV:51 for more detail).
Species: peanuts, soy, and, quinoa. Igrot Moshe (Orach Chayim III:63, discussing peanuts) presents the thesis that one does not add to the list of kitniyot species based on the logic of botanical characteristics or usage, except where the minhag is indisputable. If there is another questionable food that is important to your diet, feel free to ask us.
Derivatives: Oil derived before Pesach from kitniyot was permitted by some poskim (see Bemareh Habazak, ibid.). If, as is likely, the standard “Kosher for Pesach” alternatives are sufficient, one does not need leniency.
Mixtures: The Terumat Hadeshen (113) says that the stringencies of mixtures for Pesach do not apply to kitniyot. The Rama (OC 453:1) applies this leniency even to a simple majority of non-kitniyot, if the kitniyot element is not discernable and removable (Mishna Berura 453:8). While one may not create such a mixture on Pesach, there is room for leniency to buy it or prepare it before Pesach for Pesach use (see Bemareh Habazak, ibid.).
Not exposed to water: Since even grain does not become chametz without water, if one can insure that kitniyot did not come in contact with water, one can rely on the majority of classical poskim who permitted the matter.
An unsupervised kitniyot product may contain real chametz. Therefore, one either has to obtain and check the raw materials or buy products with a Sephardic Kosher for Pesach hasgacha and check that it does not include a majority of or discernable full-fledged kitniyot.
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