The two most widely-known kosher certification agencies are battling it out over whether the grain quinoa, a life-save for those on a gluten-free diet, is kosher for Passover.
The Baltimore-based Star K kosher agency has said that Quinoa is not “kitniyot,” one of the grains that Ashkenazi rabbis forbid on Passover, while the venerable Orthodox Union’s OU kosher division says it is.
The prohibition on eating kitniyot, such as peas, corn, and green beans, has been challenged by an increasing number of Jews in recent years. The prohibition is based on the lifestyle of 500 years ago when open sacks of legumes stood next to wheat in stores. If a tiny bit of wheat were to fall in the sack of legumes, it could ferment and cause the entire sack to be considered chametz and forbidden by the Torah to be eaten on Passover.
Lifestyles have changed, but the minhag, or custom, remains, and the rabbis explain that one should almost never cancel a ruling of Torah sages just because conditions have changed.
However, some have expanded the ban to include foods that were not in the original ruling, sparking an argument among rabbis.
Decades ago, many rabbis ruled that peanuts were kitniyot, until it was pointed out to them that they simply did not correctly understand the meaning of a legume.
Similarly, soybeans were not around 500 years ago, and many, if not most, Ashkenazi Jews do not even use soybean oil, even though the late Chief Rabbi Avraham Yitzhak Hacohen Kook allowed its use.
A recent book In Hebrew, “Without Fear of Kitniyot” and authorized by Hevron-Kiryat Arba Rabbi Dov Lior, discusses the rulings on prohibiting on Passover the use of certain kitniyot derivatives such as soybean oil. The author writes that those who think “it is good to be strict” do not necessarily receive a blessing for their severity.
Now comes quinoa, “the mother of all grains,” which by all definitions is not a legume and certainly not a grain,
So what could be the problem?
Well, it seems that in South America, where it is grown, a wind might blow a grain of barley into cultivated rows of quinoa. Barely, like wheat, is prohibited by the Torah for use on Passover,
That is enough for the OU to rule that quinoa is not kosher for Passover, while Star K totally debunks the reasoning.
“Rav Moshe Feinstein said we weren’t to add on to the rules of kitniyot, so I don’t know why anyone would,” said Rabbi Tzvi Rosen of Star-K, referring to the esteemed posek of Jewish religious law who died in 1986. “And what’s more telling of this ridiculous debate is that quinoa is a seed, not a legume,” he told JTA.
Quinoa is known for its high nutrient quality and as an alternative for those following a gluten-free diet. But quinoa is not a grain at all. It’s a member of the goosefoot family, and closely related to spinach and beets, making a very good substitute on Passover for the Torah-prohibited grains of wheat, oats, rye, spelt and barley.
That could change, however, with the world’s major kosher certifier refusing to give quinoa its Passover seal of approval.
Perhaps adopting the line of “when in doubt, be strict,” Rabbi Genack said, “We can’t certify quinoa because it looks like a grain and people might get confused. It’s a disputed food, so we can’t hold an opinion, and we don’t certify it. Those who rely on the OU for a kashrut just won’t have quinoa on Passover.”
Rabbi Rosen said the Star-K certifies only the quinoa that has no other grains growing nearby. This year, for the first time, the company sent supervisors to South America to supervise the harvesting, sifting and packaging of the product.
“Whenever there’s a new age food, there’s always a fight between kosher factions,” Rabbi Rosen said. “But we should be worrying about other things, like all the cookies, pizzas and noodles that are Passover certified but appear to be chametz. Quinoa is the least of our problems.”
The argument, which could be over “who calls the shots” rather than a pure understanding of kosher status of foods that are not prohibited on Passover by the Torah.