Thursday, April 24, 2008

Enough is Enough! (On Qitniyot and Perversion)


[I feel somewhat conflicted about writing this post דווקא today, the day after the Rav זצ"ל's
15th yahrzeit. The Rav was extremely conservative when it came to altering any type of received tradition and practice. A fortiori he tenaciously defended the integrity of rabbinic enactments
(גזירות ותקנות) , including regional ones.

On the other hand, the Rav vociferously opposed נערישקייט, especially when it masqueraded as piety. As he was wont to remark: 'Some things aren't אסור, because they're אסור. They're אסורbecause they're stupid, and it's אסור to be stupid.' (My wife's great-grandfather expressed a similar sentiment, when he said: די גרעסטע מצווה איז ניט צו זיין קיין נער. Great minds think alike.)

This following is written in attempt to navigate between the anitpodes of the Rav's legacy, while laying out my own thinking on the issue. I hope that the combination of deference and independence will prove true to the path he set out for me, and his other disciples.]

This morning, my wife and I went out for our morning power walk. We got something of a late start, and about halfway through it had become so hot that we had to cut things short. (Israel is in the midst of a serious heat wave.) We were also terribly thirsty. At the nearest grocery store, I grabbed two bottles of water (and the de rigeur bottle of Diet Coke). When I brought them back, my wife (who's more perceptive than I) noticed that the water was 'לאוכלי קטניות בלבד' (i.e. for certain Sephardim). I looked more closely at the bottle, and saw that it was slightly flavored (Lemon-Lime). So, not a little irked, I checked the ingrediants. Surprise! There was nothing in the water that was distantly related to qitniyot! So we saved our lives (there's no mitzvah to get dehydrated and collapse on Pesach), and we drank the water.

As we walked home, I kept thinking that this is beyond crazy. Whatever additive there is in the water is chemically denatured. Qitniyot is בטל ברוב, which this clearly is. The only possible thing I could think of is that if the flavor was comprised of a significant amount of qitniyot (which it isn't), its tangible presence would prevent it from becoming בטל as a מילתא דעבידא לטעמא. (Cf. ש"ך, יורה דיעה סי' צח ס"ק כ"ח). However, this is decidedly NOT the case here. In other words, there is no reason to restrict this water to consumers of qitniyot. Period.

This case, though, is indicative of a larger problem. Let's take the case of canola oil, which has been dividing religious families for a few years now (and which I have previously discussed here and here). In israel, Canola oil is listed as 'לאוכלי קטניות לפי המנהג", which is a totally meaningless (though very threatening) phrase. At least, though, it leaves the decision up to the individual.
Or, so I thought.
When I did the Pesach shopping last week, in Rami Levi (of course), I simultaneously embarked on the annual, frustrating search for non-kitniyot mayonnaise. Daring to look over at the qitniyot side of the shelf, I saw tons of light mayonnaise that had Canola written all over the jars, along with the logo 'לאוכלי קטניות בלבד.' In other words, the kashrut establishment (i.e. the various badatzim and such), have taken away our right to choose on a matter of personal practice that has absolutely nothing to do with normative halakha!
The institutionalization of such נערישקייט:
1) Makes observance of Pesach unnecessarily difficult, and drives people away from making Pesach.

2) Makes a mockery of Halakha, as ever greater logical contortions are required to justify an ever more baroque system of halakhic decisions. [One distinguished Rav told me that he thought that potatoes should be considered qitniyot, but that no one would accept such a ruling. Think of the implications for the non-Gebroks community! Thank God I'm a Litvak!]

3) Drives more and more wedges between Jews, as one is terrified to eat in someone else's home. Need I remind these commissars of qitniyot, these Torquemadas of Kashrut, how Rashi explains the principle that if a religious person says something is kosher, that one must believe him/her (Rashi, Yevamot 88a, s.v. ואמר):

והא ודאי פשיטא לן דסמכי' עליה כל זמן שלא נחשד דאי לאו הכי אין לך אדם אוכל משל חברו ואין לך אדם סומך על בני ביתו.

'Obviously, we rely upon him, so long as he is not suspect. For, if not, no one would be able to partake of his friend's food, and no one could rely on the members of his own household.'

4) Violates the rule of not going to such extremes as to make the Torah (חס וחלילה) look ridiculous (הבו להו דלא להוסיף עלה). [Cf. שבועות מ"ח ע"ב ; ט"ז, או"ח סי' שס"ג ס"ק ד; ש"ך, יו"ד סי' מ"ח ס"ק ל'; ]

Now, I want to make this perfectly clear. I am in no way advocating that Ashkenazim stop observing the hallowed custom of our forefathers, not to eat qitniyot. The fact that there were medievals who objected to the practice in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries is, effectively, irrelevant as far as practice is concerned. Deference to the collective wisdom of the ages is the essence of Tradition, of מסורה. Therefore, legumes (peas, beans etc.) may not be consumed on Pesach by Ashkenazim, and no one has the authority to do away with this practice! Corn, though it could not have been known by the Sages of Ashkenaz, has universally been classified as qitniyot, and there is some logic to abstaining from them. (Peanuts and Peanut Oil are another matter. I'm personally conflicted about soybeans, though I don't eat them on Pesach.)

However, the obsessive expansion of these restrictions is not only wrong halakhically, it betokens a deeper malaise in the Orthodox community.

For one thing, it neglects the deeper values that the Torah wishes us to instill in ourselves, our families and our people. True, as Professor Haym Soloveitchik notes at the conclusion of his classic study, Rupture and Reconstruction, the search for strictures can be viewed as part of a larger search for God:

It is this rupture in the traditional religious sensibilities that underlies much of the transformation of contemporary Orthodoxy. Zealous to continue traditional Judaism unimpaired, religious Jews seek to ground their new emerging spirituality less on a now unattainable intimacy with Him, than on an intimacy with His Will, avidly eliciting Its intricate demands and saturating their daily lives with Its exactions. Having lost the touch of His presence, they seek now solace in the pressure of His yoke.

Nevertheless, as the contemporary upsurge in the search for direct contact with God shows, this specific phenomenon not only fails to provide solace, it drives people away from the Torah, generally (especially as contemporary Israeli representatives of the Torah are largely incapable of representing anything Jewish as being intellectually respectable.)

More seriously, as we become increasingly obsessed extremism, we lose sight of the deeper values that provide the basics of the Torah, and without which we are courting disaster. The danger is not new. It has, however, become acute. A straight line runs from Rabbenu Bahya (Introduction, Hovot ha-Levavot):

One of the hakhamim was asked an esoteric question in the realm of divorce law, to which he responded: You, Sir, are asking about something that would in no way harm us if we did not know the answer; but do you know all that you should regarding the commandments that you are not entitled to ignore, and concerning which it is unbefitting for you to sin, that you turn to other questions that will bring you no improvement in your knowledge of Torah and faith, and will in no way amend that which is crooked in your soul?

to David Berger's remark (Tradition, Spring 1982):

GershomScholem once remarked that an Orthodox acquaintance told him that God had made a serious mistake when he placed lo tignov among the Ten Commandments; instead, he should have arranged a gloss to a gloss on the Ramo which would have said, "Yesh nohagin shelo lignov."

to the frightful sight of 'religious' people excusing (and sometimes justifying) the most nefarious behaviour because it was carried out by 'religious,' 'hareidi,' 'Torah observant' people. Let us not play innocent. It is far too easy to dismiss these actions as those of a few demented individuals (though they are surely that). These things arise out of a cultural context, out of a religious malaise that has affected broad swaths of the Torah community.

Which brings me back to מורי ורבי, the Rav זצ"ל. On many occasions, he inveighed against turning mitzvot into 'ceremonials.' Ceremonials, he once remarked to me, are ritual actions that are not based upon moral and intellectual foundations. Ceremonialism, he was wont to say, is paganism.

I fear that we are highing far to close to the outer limits of the Rav's words. There is more than physical hametz to be destroyed on Pesach.


Ben Bayit said...

I disagree. Chachmei Halacha have the authority to do away with the practice. This is consistent with the teshuvot of the Chacham Tzvi and Rav Yaakov Emden who tried - often unsuccessfully - to rationalize and unify the strictures surrounding kitniyot.

There is no more "logic" to banning corn than there is to banning potatoes. The only difference is that major rabbanim were successful in undermining the ridiculous ban on potatoes and failed in doing the same to corn, mustard and a whole slew of other kitniyot strictures

שו"ת שאילת יעבץ חלק ב סימן קמז, אות ד.

"האריך אדמ"ו הה"ג נר"ו ע"ד מיני קטניות לבטל המנהג. ותמיהני על כל גאוני הדור אשר היו לפנינו שלא שמו אל לבם לדבר הזה לבטל מנהג ממש שאין רוב הצבור יכולין לעמוד בו. ולא עוד שהיו מוסיפין. ואסרו כמה מינים מפני שדומין לקטניות כמו חרדל. וכמון שנקרא קימל וגם עניס. ואפילו השמנים שנעשו מדברים ההם כמו (ריב איל) החמירו. ודכירנא כד הוינא טליא והי' אב"ד ור"מ פה הגאון מוה' צבי הירש זצ"ל שהחמיר מאד אפילו בפול המצרי ירוקים שנכבשו במלח בעודן לחין. והזרע ר"ל פול הלבן עדיין לא נראה בהם. ואסרן לאכלן בפסח. כך שמעתי אז ולא זכיתי לשאלו בעת ההיא. כי הייתי צעיר לימים".

בהמשך דברי ר"י עמדין בתשובה הנ"ל:

"ובהיותי במנהיים רצו לאסור הפרי הארץ שקורין ערד עפפל או קארטופלין /תפוחי אדמה/. מפני שעושין מהם קמח ואני עמדתי כנגדם. ביודעי שאין הצבור יכולין לעמוד בזולתם. והוא מאכל עניים וראיתי המעשה כמה פעמים שבני הכפרים האכילו אותם לבני ביתם מאין להם לחם ומזון די. ונצחתי אותם ע"י אנשי הקהל שם שצוו על המורה שלא יאסור דבר חדש מה שלא אסרו הרבנים שישבו שם על כסא הוראה כי לא הי' בעת ההיא אב"ד שם. כי הר"מ מקלויז הרב מוה' מענדל יאנקוי ז"ל הי' שם למורה ומה טוב אם יסכימו כל חכמי הדור לדעת אחת. ומסופקני אם יבוא הדבר פעם אחת על מכונו בדור הזה שגברה הקנאה. ויראים יותר מן המנהגים כמפני גופי תורה".

OTD said...

Word, Jeffrey!

And here's another word: Quinoa. Absolutely not kitniyot by any standards, and a great ingredient to add in to the Pesach mix- yet this year, nevertheless it has been castigated as such.

Ch Schwartz said...

Do you know of a good review article on kitniyot? - one that would cover the topic from a historical as well as halachik perspective (meaning, one that discusses the various opinions such as they are, both stringent and permissive).

Anonymous said...

I love that quote from R'CS although iirc he said he added it as an afterthought without any idea how popular the "Having lost the touch of His presence, they seek now solace in the pressure of His yoke. " would become.

I'd add R' Kook's insight to the mix:
שו"ת אורח משפט או"ח סימן קיב
וכבר כתבתי למעלת כבוד תורתם, שאני יודע ברור תכונת בני דורנו, שדוקא ע"י מה שיראו, שכל מה שיש להתיר ע"פ עומק הדין מתירין אנחנו, ישכילו לדעת, שמה שאין אנו מתירין הוא מפני אמתת דין תורה, וימצאו רבים הדבקים בתורה שישמעו לקול מורים בעז"ה, מה שא"כ כשיתגלה הדבר, שישנם דברים כאלה, שמצד שורת ההלכה ראויים הם להיתר ורבנים לא חשו על טרחם וצערם של ישראל, והניחו את הדברים באיסורם, יוצא מזה ח"ו ח"ה גדול מאד, עד שמתרבים המתפרצים לומר על כמה גופי תורה, שאם הרבנים רוצים היו יכולים להתיר, וע"י זה יוצא משפט מעוקל.

Joel Rich

Anonymous said...

On the Rav, I think two things bear saying:

1. The Rav's ideas are of crucial importance to the State of Israel, and it is our great loss that the religious community here doesn't much know of him, nor do his ideas have much influence.

2. It is no less true, however, that the Rav did not live here and did not overly encourage his talmidim to try to influence Torah life here. Furthermore, his derekh was molded as a response to American Jewish realities, not Israeli realities.

To me, what these two opposing facts means is that we in Israel should learn as much as possible from the Rav, but on the other hand have no reason to see his positions, especially halakhic ones, as ultimately binding.

This goes in particular to the Rav's highly conservative approach to minhag. No, the Rav would clearly have never considered dropping kitniot in an American Jewish environment.

But in Israel, in an era of kibbutz galuyot, where the large majority of observant Jews come from non-Ashkenazic cultures and eat kitniot (despite some Morrocans not eating rice), and where kitniot literally builds walls between Torah Jews and creates particular hardships for the Ashkenazic minority -- in this situation the conservative tendency of the Rav in another country doesn't hold the trump card.

Rather, poskim can limit the issur of kitniot or get rid of it entirely if they want to.

Interested in hearing your response to this.

Anonymous said...

If I am not mistaken, Canola is a problem because of a real chashash that wheat tends to get mixed in with the rapeseed. Rav Ovadiah, I believe, writes about it in a teshuva.