(originally published 2010)
Dear Tanta Golda,
Dear Tanta Golda,
I know that Pesach is still a month away, but yesterday I saw matzah in the store and it got me wondering why there are special “kosher for Passover” marshmallows, and can I eat peas or not? (And really, why not!?)
Ah my preciously perplexed,
You ask perfectly excellent questions. And what would Passover be without questions?
Let me start off by saying that what you “can” and cannot eat on Passover is largely dependent on your ancestry. It’s true! The Talmud only prohibits 5 grains: wheat, barley, spelt, rye, and oats. This makes sense as these were the main grains found in the Middle-East*. These are traditionally referred to as chametz. (*There is now some disagreement about this.)
However, as Jews spread in Diaspora (the dispersion of the Jews beyond Israel), the rabbis adapted new customs based on local foods.
More than 80 percent of Jews today are Ashkenazim; Jews of central or eastern European descent. Most of the customs you are probably familiar with, such as avoiding peas and corn, come from the Ashkenazi tradition. Kitniyot (translated as ‘small things’ ) are foods such as: corn, rice, beans, peas, lentils, and for some, peanuts. Now Tanta Golda has heard two different reasons for this. One is that since these foods are often grown or stored near chametz, it is difficult to be sure that they have not been contaminated. The other explanation is that these foods can be dried and ground up into flour which could be made into goods that look like chametz. How this applies to corn syrup, is beyond my ken. Tanta Golda has always thought it rather silly that one couldn’t eat foods, such as marshmallows cola, or most Candy because they are normally made with corn syrup. Once it’s syrup, you can’t make it into bread! Obviously a rule made by men who never cook.
Sephardic Jews, those whose ancestry is from the Iberian Peninsula (modern Spain and Portugal), follow much less stringent customs. Corn, beans and rice* may be eaten after it has been throughly checked to make certain that it has not been contaminated by chametz. * Now, some Sephardim do not eat rice, once again, it depends on where specifically you trace your ancestry from.
And of course my sweet, what would any discussion about Jewish customs be without disagreement! This one stems around gebrouchts, wet matzah There are those who say, heaven forbid there might be an eentsy-weentsy bit of uncooked flour left in a matzot, that when mixed with water, begins to ferment, in other words, become chametz. therefore, gebrouchts is a no-no. There are other, saner people - those who like matzah balls for example, who say this is nonsense. Anyone who’s baked matzah knows that this just isn’t possible. Again, when you leave food rules to men...(TG is very grateful her husband cooks and understands this is silliness. What would Pesach be like without matzah balls?)
I hope I’ve clarified this a bit for you dearie. As Tanta Golda gets older she’s more inclined to follow biblical traditions and eat peas on Passover!