Wearing craziness on the outside (part 2)

Sarah has an extremely limited diet.  She’s gluten and sugar free, among a whole bunch of other stuff,not the least of which is keeping strictly kosher, and therefore any additional restriction is a real challenge.  She normally eats a cereal which is largely flax and sorghum daily.

Pesaḥ is coming, and we wanted to see whether she could have that cereal, and while I was waiting to talk to RDBF, my pal M mentioned to me that the OU had said that sorghum was a problem as an ingredient in medicine.

Now, those things which are ḥametz are barley, rye, oats, spelt, and wheat.  Wheat, rye, and barley and spelt are subfamily pooideae (tribe triticeae), and oats are genus avena, while sorghum is subfamily panicoideae, genus sorghum.  The closest relative to sorghum which is even listed as kitniyot is maize (subfamily panicoideae, genus zea).

The order of taxonomical classifications is (in old-school terms): kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, genus, species.  There have been a few more additions – subfamily and tribe between family and genus, but the important thing is that genus is above species.  Humans are closer to chimpanzees (both subtribe hominina, chimpanzees are genus pan, while we’re genus homo) than sorghum is to the nearest (slightly) problematic maize – those aren’t even in the same subtribe.

So the OU is nuts for Pesaḥ this year – but should we be surprised?  As is said in Kohelet (Ecclesiastes) 1:9, ואין כל חדש תחת השמש (there is nothing new under the sun) – or in a more timely way of putting it, מה נשתנה, הלילה הזה מכל הלילות (What makes this night different from other nights?).

And for those following along about the actual question, RDBF’s answer was “yep, this is fine.”  This is something I love about Kesher Israel – sane p’sak.  I don’t think the value of that can be overstated, and I feel sorry for other communities which don’t have leadership which allows orthodox judaism to be practiced with common sense.

(crazy part one is here)


About thegameiam
I'm a network engineer, musician, and Orthodox Jew who opines on things which cross my path.

10 Responses to Wearing craziness on the outside (part 2)

  1. Elanit says:

    yup, sane psak, until you get to the stuff where rdbf is not sane about… 🙂

    • thegameiam says:

      There are a bunch of cases where I don’t agree (e.g. the humming during sheva berakhot, whether it is okay to shovel snow off of a sidewalk on shabbat), but I’m not aware of any cases where I don’t understand the reason. Are there any not-so-sane piskei halakhot you can mention publicly? (edit: fixed my HTML…)

  2. Nachum Lamm says:

    Just a note- oats are almost certainly not one of the “five grains.” For that matter, spelt, rye, and bread wheat are all likely not either (none of these grew in Israel 2,000 years ago), but at least those are related to those that are- most likely emmer, einkorn, durum, and two- and six- row barley. By definition, the five grains need gluten, which oats do not have,

    • thegameiam says:

      I don’t know about what the original grains were (and admittedly we don’t have the most awesome records from the time), but it does need to be stated that oats absolutely do contain gluten – this is an important note so that you don’t kill anyone with celiac disease. The gluten that oats contain is different than that which wheat contains, but it is still gluten. There are strains of oats which do not contain this gluten (the shmura matza made from that is amazingly expensive), but those are not the default strain (or else everyone’s oatmeal raisin cookies would fall apart).

      • Nachum says:

        But does oat bread rise?

        By the way, oats not only were unknown in Israel, they were seen as animal feed until recently.

        By the way, I think you mean “hand,” not shmura, matza. Shmura matza can be machine (although almost all hand is shmura). The distinction should be made.

      • thegameiam says:

        Oat bread absolutely rises. I do not mean “hand” – the expensive gluten-free oat matzah is machine-made. Personally, I prefer machine-made shmura matzah because the percentage of unbroken boards is generally a lot higher.
        I’m not sure you are correct regarding whether oats were known in Israel – this isn’t my area of expertise, but there is evidence that they were known in the ancient fertile crescent, but in either case it’s come to be considered one of the five grains. There are certainly other cases of this – maize getting confused with “corn” meaning “wheat” leading to it being kitniyot, turkey being permitted because it considered a chicken, etc. You win some, you lose some…

  3. Mmm oats. says:

    Oats do not contain gluten. The reason that celiacs tell people that they cannot eat oats is because almost all oats are contaminated with wheat, around 1000 parts per million. Until recently gluten-free oats were only available by mail order. Now Trader Joe’s sells gluten-free oats. Before that, many celiacs used McCann’s, which was not officially gluten-free, but it was the best one could do. Rav Broyde has an article on the blog hirhurim on whether oats are one of the 5 grains. Rav Willig concludes similarly. And there are many others. It’s been awhile since I’ve read it, but I think the argument is that the-grain-translated-as-oats is supposed to be a type of barley, and oats is not.

    • thegameiam says:

      Whether oats contain “gluten” depends on your definition of gluten.

      The gluten found in wheat is more precisely known as gliadin. The glutinous substance in oats is precisely known as avenin. Those are similar but unequal proteins, and more people have an allergic response to gliadin than to avenin.

      However, both of those proteins are known as “gluten” if you define “gluten” as “protein which provides strength to flour and is a common allergen.” This is a bit like referring to tea as being with or without caffeine – it’s really the theophylline which is the primary stimulant in tea, much as it’s the theobromine in coffee, but those are commonly referred to as “caffeine.”

      So folks with celiac disease have two concerns: some (although a minority) are also sensitive to avenin, and also the cross-contamination you mention (which can happen in the field, in processing, or elsewhere).

      I presume that R’ Broyde & R’ Willig are taking the position that while oats may not have been the original meaning, we function today as though they are one of the five, right? Otherwise, they’re proposing a substantial change in custom (which I would think would be a topic of much controversy). A similar argument can be made regarding whether corn (maize) should be kitniyot – it, like the potato, was completely unknown to the Geonim, and thus could not have intentionally have been prohibited at the time.

  4. Ari E-B says:

    Not so serious comment: If you wanted sanity on pesach, you would have become a sephardi.

    Serious comment: I can’t find a OU list of kitniyot, but the CRC does mention sorghum as kitniyot, so its not like the OU is alone in this.

    Also, the definition of kitniyot has nothing to do with actual scientific classifications. [Insert science and religion joke here]. It has more to do with the appearance of the product and whether the rabbis felt there was the chance of confusion and/or contamination.

    • thegameiam says:

      Also, the definition of kitniyot has nothing to do with actual scientific classifications. [Insert science and religion joke here]. It has more to do with the appearance of the product and whether the rabbis felt there was the chance of confusion and/or contamination.

      Well, yes, but the issue here is that while hametz is a Biblical prohibition, abstaining from eating kitniyot is a custom.

      Further, the definitions of the kitniyot are now *fixed* – ever since the Chayei Adam declared that potatoes (and anything else not specifically mentioned as kitniyot) were not, that category can’t be expanded. Now, if there were a concern that sorghum were contaminated with wheat, that’d be a separate issue – but it would be a hametz issue, not a kitniyot issue.

      So the CRC should remember that it’s “puff, puff, pass“- they seem to forget that last bit…

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