OU812 (or Oh, You are at it Again!) — UPDATED

The Orthodox Union has decided to let the let the nuts (that is, the so-called authorities who provide what they claim is rabbinic guidance, not to malign the delightful fruit of many trees) out of the cage once more. They published their annual list of insane additions to the prohibited foods category called kitniyot, and it has something particularly egregious:

The following may be Kitniyot and are therefore not used:
Quinoaupdate, see below

Now, peanuts are a long debate, and most folks I know have the custom of not eating them (note the phrasing!). Amaranth is a specialty product, and I don’t have a dog in that fight. Quinoa, on the other hand, has become a flash point for the battle for the soul of Orthodox Judaism between those who think that the answer to modern questions lies in the reasoning of those came before us, and those who want to make it up as they go along. Yes, that is a harsh way of putting it, but I believe the harshness is justified and even required: “You shall not hate your brother in your heart;… You shall surely rebuke him” (Leviticus 19:17).

One of the decisors of the OU was concerned that quinoa would be prepared on machines which also prepare wheat, raising a concern of hametz (leaven). Another (R. Belsky) took an uncommon position that the category of kitniyot could be expanded, and characterized the position that held that quinoa would not be kitniyot as “lenient”.

In all of this, it should be noted that the Star-K, not known as a bunch of liberals, certifies quinoa for Passover.

The actual statement by the OU is to put quinoa in the category of “you can own it, feed it to a sick person, an infant, a pet, etc” – But leavened products aren’t allowed to be owned or eaten by pretty much anyone (except the grievously ill) and no benefit is allowed from them! So what to make of this?

My contention is that the OU is all over the place here, and does not have a good halakhic (or scientific) basis for what they are saying. Let’s do this in order:

1. If the OU are concerned that quinoa may be produced in a way that it could be mixed in with hametz, but it is not in fact hametz itself (no one says it is), then the answer is that you could say that it would require supervision. The OU did not say that.

2. If the OU are concerned about hametz, why in the world would they include this on a list of *kitniyot* products? I’m not allowed to feed *my dog* hametz, while I do feed my dog kitniyot. If there is a real concern of hametz, that is a Biblical prohibition, and allowing people to come close to that is untenable and is precisely the sin of “leading the community astray.”

3. Saying that the list of kitniyot is fixed isn’t the *lenient* opinion, it’s the *normative* opinion, per the Chayei Adam. That’s why we can have potatoes. The Chayei Adam said that thetakahna (decree) only affected the species that the rabbis who issued it knew about, so no new world plants could have been included. Denigrating the normal and calling it lenient is a violation of lo titgodedu (don’t cause schism), which is de-oraita (Biblical) (ie I eat quinoa, and will do so this year again, as poskened (ruled) by my rabbi [there is a valid opinion that it’s fine] – the OU position will lead to people not eating at each other’s houses).

4. “May be kitniyot”? Seriously? This is a takana (decree) not even a derabbanan (rabbinic commandment), and we have the principle “safek derabbanan l’kulah” (a doubt about a rabbinic issue is ruled leniently). So, nu, how precisely is saying “the following may be Kitniyot and are therefore not used” following that principle?

5. The biggest market for quinoa is the gluten free people *who have nothing to do with wheat or any of the five grains*, so, no, it’s extremely unlikely to have any wheat or other hametz in it, and if they left their ivory tower and got out a bit, they might have figured this out.

The OU is leading people astray with this, and they have much to answer for.

UPDATE: Victory! The OU has removed quinoa from the kitniyot list for the year! They left the weasel-category of “may be kitniyot” in place for peanuts and amaranth (which is not reasonable), but we can be heartened by the triumph of sanity. Yay!


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

13 Responses to OU812 (or Oh, You are at it Again!) — UPDATED

  1. Rella says:

    All I have to say is “gah!”

  2. lydia says:

    just as blood-boiling as one of my all time favorite phrases: is/is not “kosher enough”.

  3. Foxfier says:

    Reblogged this on Head Noises and commented:
    As much as I hate to see other folks get frustrated and face the urge to pull their hair out at some religious reps doing stuff they aren’t allowed to do… it’s kind of reassuring to see it OUTSIDE of the Church, for once!

  4. Foxfier says:


  5. Regarding point #3: Given that maize is universally considered kitniyot these days, does it really make sense to assume that anybody is holding by the Chayei Adam?

    • thegameiam says:

      Maize is prohibited because people got mixed up by a translation (argh) – “corn” is a word which means “the grain which grows locally,” and in Europe, “corn” meant wheat. As examples, take a look at the biblical dishes of “parched corn” and the like- those are not maize. Maize was initially referred to as “Indian corn,” where “Indian” was used not to refer to the people who grew it but in a pejorative manner showing falseness (like “Indian summer”) – that is, it wasn’t “real” corn.

      I make a point of raising maize as an argument every year so that the line gets drawn there and doesn’t go any further.

      Interestingly, the same type of error gave us turkey (hodu) being kosher, so maize on Passover for turkey year round is a fair trade.

  6. The Nudnik says:

    In 2006, I sent the following email to the OU’s “Webbe Rebbe”:
    Evidently, there is quinoa available for Pesach. Here is what cRc has to say:
    Quinoa: There is a difference of opinion regarding the status of quinoa. All agree that it’s not chometz, but some consider it Kitniyos. According to the psak of Rav Gedalia Schwartz, shlit”a, quinoa is not kitniyos, and therefore is acceptable for Passover use. There is concern that some companies that pack quinoa also may pack other products that may be kitniyos or even chometz. Therefore, it is recommended that it only be purchased from a company that only packs quinoa. Ancient Harvest brand from Gardena, California, only deals with pure quinoa, however, only the “whole grain” quinoa may be used. Trader Joe’s brand with the “half moon K”, is also acceptable. Other quinoa products such as pasta and flour should not be used for Passover.

    I received this response:
    Thank you for checking with the OU regarding your Kashruth question.
    As a matter of policy, the OU does not share evaluations of other Hechsherim or their positions with the general public for a variety of reasons. We recommend that you discuss these questions with your local Rabbi.
    We at the OU stand by our original position.
    Furthermore, you should be aware that their a debate among Rabbinic decisors (Machloket Ha-Poskim) if Quinoa is kitniyoth.
    Please don’t hesitate to contact us again should you have any further questions.
    With best wishes for a Chag Kosher ve-Sameach,

    BTW, here is the cRc position for 2013:

    Quinoa for the 2013 Passover Season
    The cRc is only accepting the Ancient Harvest brand of quinoa with the Star K Passover certification on each label. All other brands or packages from the same manufacturer without the Star K Passover certification are not recommended.

    • thegameiam says:

      Of course, their “original position” (that quinoa “may be kitniyot”) is the one they from which have now backed away. A debate is an acceptable position, and commenting on the debate is acceptable. Taking a side in the debate is acceptable (as long as the debate is acknowledged). What they did was invent a category, and then define the appropriate behavioral response to that category in the strictest possible manner. This is inappropriate and not in keeping with halakhah.

      • The Nudnik says:

        Doing further reading, I found out that the OU position appears to be at the insistence of (Rabbi) Belsky, who IMO for various reasons is not “fit for purpose”. Hamavin yavin.

  7. Janet says:

    Rabbi Abadi seems to take the line that yellow corn is permitted for Ashkenazim, but white corn is not. This is for Ashkenazim, not Sephardim. I do not understand the reasons for this, but it’s in his Pesach 2013 list.

    • thegameiam says:

      That’s surprising! Do you have a link?

  8. Sandra says:

    I’m so relived that I now eat kitniyot. There’s just no way around it for me and approved by a certain, very reasonable Rabbi who uses his noggin (a rarer and rarer sixth species). Enjoy your Pesach, my Ashkenaz friend.

  9. Pingback: Is quinoa kitniot? | tuxeliana

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