The Biggest Question: Whom to Ask?

 By Judy Heicklen

This year, for the first time in my life, I spent Passover in Israel. My eldest is there for her year between high school and college, and we thought it would be a meaningful experience for all of us to be in Jerusalem when we conclude our Seder with “l’shana haba’ah bi-Yerushalayim.”

And so began the great kitniyot debate.

Kitniyot, the legumes, beans, and seeds forbidden on Passover according to Ashkenazi tradition, presented a few questions to wrestle with. The first has to do with the uniqueness of the calendar this year. The seventh day of Passover fell on Friday, which meant that the Shabbat immediately following it was no longer Passover in Israel. Thus, even though we couldn’t eat hametz on that Shabbat (because we couldn’t acquire or make any hametz), we should have theoretically been able to eat kitniyot, as we are allowed to own them during Passover. The second issue has to do with the fact that my daughter is a vegan, whose only source of protein is legumes.

I emailed my rabbi, the mara d’atra of my shul, to ask him how to manage the kitniyot situation. He did allow my daughter, as a strict vegan, to eat kitniyot during all of Passover. He also responded that I shouldn’t cook kitniyot in my pots, because they would then have the ta’am (taste) of kitniyot and couldn’t be used for the rest of the week, but I could keep kitniyot salads in the refrigerator and have any kitniyot eaters use disposable utensils.

When I told my Israeli sister-in-law that I could not cook kitniyot, she replied that I should have asked an Israeli rabbi, because the American rabbis are behind the times on the kitniyot issue. When I told a fellow JOFA board member about the p’sak, she pointed me toward a video put out by Machon Shilo discouraging the minhag of avoiding kitniyot. Others pointed me to the p’sak of Rav Yoel bin Nun allowing kitniyot derivatives because they don’t have the appearance of hametz.

So should I not have bothered asking in the first place, but just done my own research? Should I have chosen my posek based on knowing what he or she would answer? When does each of us choose to ask a she’eilah, a question, and to whom? What qualifies someone to be a posek? What does it mean to have semikhah? This issue of the JOFA Journal explores these questions and related issues.

Women are now forming a cohort of religious leaders in the Orthodox community. Institutions such as Yeshivat Maharat, Nishmat, Midreshet Lindenbaum, the Drisha Institute, the Graduate Program for Women in Advanced Talmudic Study (GPATS) at Yeshiva University, Matan (Women’s Institute for Torah Studies), and others are training women to be halakhic and spiritual guides. The next step is to create a professional career path for these women. JOFA is supporting this in two ways: We hope to foster a sense of professional collegiality among the women in the various programs and to partner with communities to find employment for them in synagogues, schools, and institutions. That work has recently begun with the first-ever gathering of Orthodox women clergy from these different programs. Over the coming years, JOFA will continue to provide a platform for these women to collaborate and learn together, while making inroads into the community for career advancement.

Many of these programs (as well as JOFA itself) would not be here today without the vision, support, passion, and energy of Belda Lindenbaum, z”l. Our community is diminished by her loss. On a more personal note, I will miss her sharp sense of humor, her willingness to speak truth to power, and her friendship.

So what did I do about kitniyot? Well, I had already asked the question, and therefore I was sticking with the answer. So there I was, in the aisles of the Israeli supermarkets, carefully reading the labels of the products to make sure they had the right hashgahot. It certainly led to some head scratching. What, after all, could possibly be kitniyot about cumin? And when the label says “kosher for Passover but contains rapeseed oil,” what does that mean? Do I use rapeseed oil or not? It turns out it was much harder to keep kosher for Passover in Jerusalem than in Teaneck!

L’shanah haba’ah bi-Yerushalayim hab’nuyah.


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