– Author: Rav Udiel Hadad

This article will explore some of the leniencies that apply regarding feeding a minor kitniot on Pesach. We will first address the general prohibition of feeding minors prohibited foods, and then try and understand the source and nature of the Ashkenazic minhag not to eat kitniot. Finally, we will discuss the practical ramifications regarding those who are permitted to eat kitniot in some cases, such as the sick and children.

Feeding a Child Forbidden Foods

The Sages in the Gemara derive that there is a Torah prohibition of feeding prohibited foods to minors from the verse “lo tochelum ki sheketz hem,[1] “do not eat them for they are repulsive.” Since the verse, which refers to the prohibition of non-kosher foods, can be read as “lo ta’achilum,” “do not feed them, it serves as the source for this halacha. The Gemara clarifies that the prohibition applies to feeding children directly, but there is no obligation to prevent them from eating forbidden foods on their own.

The Rambam[2] and the Rashba[3] argue concerning whether this prohibition also applies to rabbinically prohibited food. The Rambam holds that the prohibition applies both to food that is prohibited from the Torah as well as that forbidden by the Rabbis, whereas the Rashba holds that the prohibition only applies to foods prohibited mide’oraita.

However, the Rashba[4] himself rules in his responsa that in practice we are stringent due to concern that the child may infer that such activities are permitted, stating “that which I answered was in principle only, but not to be done practically.” Nevertheless, he does state in the same responsa that where there is a need for the child, one may be lenient. The Pri Chadash[5] draws a different distinction. He holds that in cases where the actual product itself is forbidden, then we must be stringent even if the prohibition is only rabbinic, but if the food is intrinsically permitted but is prohibited to eat at a specific time (such as on a fast day), then the Sages were lenient even in actively feeding the children.

The Shulchan Aruch[6] codifies the halacha in accordance with the Rambam: “Concerning a minor that is eating neveilot, the Beit Din is not obligated to separate the child from the food, but his father is commanded to rebuke him and separate him from the food. And it is forbidden to actively feed the child even foods that are only prohibited rabbinically.” The Kaf HaChaim[7] notes that if one tells a minor that it is permitted to eat such a food, it is equivalent to actively feeding him, since the child is eating as a result of one’s instruction.

However, Rav Shneur Zalman of Liadi[8] writes that wherever the food in question is a necessity for the child, the Sages permitted feeding it to a child if it is not biblically prohibited. Moreover, the leniency applies even if the child has already reached the age of chinuch. In contrast, if the item is not necessary for the child, it is forbidden to give it to him even if he has not yet reached the age of comprehension, which is approximately three or four (and if he has, then the father must rebuke the child if he takes it himself). The Mishna Berura[9] also writes in the name of the Gra[10] that there are certain times where we even permit feeding the child directly if there is a great need, though that is limited to a case where the prohibition is miderabanan (he offers the examples of the prohibitions of bathing and anointing on Yom Kippur).

It is clear from the Mishna Berura and Shulchan Aruch HaRav that although the Shulchan Aruch prohibits feeding children even foods that are forbidden miderabanan, nevertheless we rely on the Rashba to permit this when necessary.

In summary, all agree that it is prohibited to actively give a child forbidden foods, regardless of whether they are prohibited biblically or by rabbinical law, and regardless of whether the child is old enough to understand that the food is forbidden or not. In addition, it makes no difference whether the one feeding the child is the father or another adult.

Concerning a case of stopping a child who is already eating a forbidden food, the father must rebuke the child if he has old enough to understand that the act is forbidden, regardless of whether the prohibition is a de’oraita or derabanan. But other adults are not obligated to rebuke the child and prevent him from eating.

The Source of the Minhag of Kitniot

It seems clear that according to the strict halacha, kitniot are not considered chametz. Although the Gemara[11] notes that Rabbi Yochanan Ben Nuri holds that kitniot are actually chametz, it is clear that no Amora’im or Rishonim accepted this opinion or were concerned with it. Thus, the Shulchan Aruch rules that rice and other kitniot are permitted on Pesach. However, the Rema[12] mentions the Ashkenazic custom not to eat kitniot and writes that one may not change this minhag.

One of the earliest written sources for this minhag is the Smak,[13] who writes that the common practice is not to eat them on Pesach. He adds that although many great rabbis were lenient, it is difficult to permit a minhag that has been accepted by the people and by earlier Sages. He explains that the source for this minhag is due to the fact that there are many similarities between wheat and kitniot. For example, wheat and kitniot are both used to make porridges. Furthermore, the grains are stacked in the field in a similar fashion. These similarities might lead uneducated people to assume that if one may cook kitniot and eat bread made from kitniot, the same would apply to bread made from the five grains. Hence, the minhag became to treat kitniot as if they could become chametz like the five grains. The Maharil[14] further explains that the minhag was applied to all kitniot despite the fact that only certain species share these similarities with the five grains.

The Ritva[15] though gives a different reason for this minhag. He opines that the concern is that the kernels of grain would be physically mixed up with kitniot since they are very similar in appearance, and by permitting kitniot one will invariably come to unwittingly eat actual chametz. The Terumat HaDeshen[16] mentions both opinions, as does the Taz.[17]

We see that there are thus two main reasons why kitniot are prohibited according to the minhag:

  1. Lest one confuse the laws of kitniot with those of the five grains.
  2. Lest the kernels of the five grains actually get mixed up with the kitniot.

Leniencies for Kitniot

Although the Ashkenazic authorities were generally stringent regarding kitniot, some Acharonim were lenient in certain cases.

The Chatam Sofer[18] writes in his responsa that poskim in one particular country permitted having kitniot on Pesach, but he is not sure why they were lenient. He attempts to defend the ruling by explaining that concern existed that people were not baking matzot properly and would actually end up eating chametz. Hence, the Rabbis permitted kitniot under these circumstances.

The Chatam Sofer then writes that although the reason to permit kitniot in this case was based on good intentions, they should have first done chalita[19] on the kitniot, as mentioned in the Smak. Although the Smak himself writes that we are no longer experts concerning the process of chalita and hence do not rely on it, if it would be done correctly, it is possible that there would be no prohibition even regarding the five grains. Therefore, this would definitely be preferable concerning kitniot. He further writes that this is what he tells the masses of Jewish soldiers (in the Russian and Prussian Army) to do in order not to transgress eating chametz. In summary, the Chatam Sofer is only lenient (or more accurately, judges people favorably) on condition that they do chalita.

The Mor Uketzia[20] writes that one may definitely permit kitniot in a time of need. He stresses that he thinks the entire minhag is an unnecessary one and that his father (the Chacham Tzvi) felt that this was a very negative minhag. Although he does not rule that it is permitted in practice, he does permit consuming kitniot in times of need, and does not require chalita. He further writes that the Rema’s reference to the Tur as one of the sources of this minhag is erroneous, as the Tur states that it is not an accepted custom.

The Aruch HaShulchan[21] offers a different leniency that the primary reason for the minhag of kitniot was that people might confuse the laws of kitniot with the five grains (the first reason given above), but the custom was not accepted in years of famine, where the poor would not have anything to eat otherwise. It seems that the Aruch HaShulchan felt that kitniot were entirely permitted in this case and did not require chalita.

The Chayei Adam[22] writes that although chalita is generally prohibited in our times, if soldiers force people to cook barley for them, then they should do chalita first. He adds that even if they are able to appease the soldiers by cooking kitniot, they should check them thoroughly and also do chalita on them, since it is certain that some kernels of chametz got mixed up with them. The Chayei Adam[23] later writes that “this minhag can be suspended for great need or for a sick person who is not in a life threatening situation or for a young child if it is needed significantly.” It seems that in the first case, the Chayei Adam permits preparing kitniot in a time of need but obligates chalita to be done, while in the second, he does not mention the need for chalita.

The Mishna Berura[24] writes that in a time of need where there is a shortage of food, and certainly for a sick person who is not in a life threatening situation, all food would be permitted other than chametz, but it is preferable to use kitniot (i.e., legumes) before rice and millet, concerning which the reasons for the custom apply more strongly. The Mishna Berura requires checking kitniot carefully in such cases and cites the Chatam Sofer, who requires chalita as well, as we saw above. He writes that “kol ma she’efshar letakein metakninan lei,” whatever we can do to minimize the chance of prohibition we must do, and notes that this is also mentioned by the Chayei Adam.

The Piskei Teshuvot[25] comments on the ruling of the Mishna Berura that the leniency and conditions specified apply regarding a sick person as well, for whom it is also permitted to cook kitniot if needed. Similarly, it is common custom to cook kitniot for babies who do not eat other foods.

Rav Yehuda Leib Rosenthal[26] deals with this issue at length, including the question of whether the Mishna Berura requires chalita when feeding kitniot to a child as well. He concludes that this should be dependent upon whether they were included in the original minhag and the leniency for them is similar to the others mentioned above or whether they were excluded from the original minhag to begin with, similar to certain laws of aveilut.[27] If we posit that minors were included in the original custom, then chalita should also be required when preparing kitniot for them. But if they were never included in the decree, then the rule of “kol ma she’efshar letakein metakninan lei” should not apply. Rav Rosenthal suggests that the Chayei Adam[28] indicates that it is a leniency and not an absolute heter when he writes: “And the leniency applies to a minor as well if he really needs it.”

Nevertheless, he points out that the Chayei Adam writes concerning the soldiers that one needs to fastidiously check the grains of kitniot as well as do chalita, whereas when discussing the leniency for minors and the ill, none of these conditions are mentioned.

In order to understand this, we need to return to the original reason of why the custom was to prohibit kitniot. As we saw above, the Smak, Maharil, and Aruch HaShulchan stress that the reason is out of concern that one might confuse kitniot with the five grains and come to permit the eating of actual chametz (ati l’achlufei). None of these gedolim mentioned the concern that kernels of grain might be mixed up in the actual kitniot. The Ritva, on the other hand, stressed the concern that the actual grains would be mixed up with the kitniot. The Taz and Aruch HaShulchan mention both reasons, whereas the Chayei Adam and Shulchan Aruch HaRav only mention the reason of ati l’achlufei.

At first glance, one could argue that in cases when we permit kitniot due to famine or other considerations, we should distinguish between these two reasons. If we are concerned for the presence of actual chametz with the kitniot, we need to do everything we can to minimize the possibility of violating the prohibition. However, if the reason is based on potential confusion of kitniot with the five grains, then if one permits eating kitniot, there would be no reason to do chalita or check the grains fastidiously.

The problem is that this distinction does not correspond to what we find in the poskim, as even the poskim such as the Chayei Adam who only mentioned the concern of ati l’achlufei nevertheless require scrupulous checking. In addition, the Smak, the source of the custom prohibiting kitniot, writes that there were those who wanted to permit it through chalita, but this should not be permitted, lest they come to do chalita on grains as well. But according to the Smak, the reason for the custom is due to ati l’achlufei, which would seem to imply that chalita is not relevant at all.

Rav Rosenthal therefore explains that our first premise must obviously be wrong. Even according to those that hold that the reason is due to ati l’achlufei, there are certainly types of kitniot where concern exists for grain being mixed in as well.

This explains why according to those who hold that the primary reason for the custom is due to ati l’achlufei, in cases where kitniot would be permitted, one would only have to do chalita and check scrupulously for specific types of kitniot where there is a significant probability that grains may be mixed in. In contrast, if we understand that the main reason for the custom was due to the concern of the mixing of grain inside, then performing chalita and the other precautions would always be required when permitting kitniot, as we must ensure that no grain gets mixed into the kitniot.

Rav Rosenthal suggests that the wording of the Chayei Adam supports this understanding. The Chayei Adam required performing chalita regarding rotchki (buckwheat), since there definitely may be wheat mixed in, but did not require doing so for sick people and minors who are permitted to consume kitniot, since there he was talking about the general custom regarding all the different species of kitniot. If so, one could argue that wherever there is a concern regarding chametz being mixed in, one would always have to perform chalita.

A counter argument could be made that even if we adopt the position that the reason for the custom was due to a concern for the kitniot being mixed with grain, it is not an absolute that chalita and checking would be required in cases when kitniot are permitted. We could argue that if certain cases were never included in the custom (as was suggested regarding minors), then those measures would not obligated unless there is a specific reason to be concerned that this type of kitniot also may contain chametz.

He proves this point from the Aruch HaShulchan, who mentions both reasons for the custom, but nevertheless never mentions the necessity for chalita or checking in cases of need when we permit this custom. Hence, one could reason that in cases where the custom was never accepted, there is no need to perform chalita or check for chametz unless there is reason to do so in that specific case.

Rav Rosenthal concludes that according to the Mishna Berura (who does not mention children as one of the exceptions), children are included within the minhag of kitniot, and this should be the practical halacha as well. Therefore, if possible, alternative options should definitely be sought even in cases of need, and one should not give candies or the like made with kitniot to children, since they are not considered a major necessity. Even where it is permitted for the child to consume kitniot, one must first perform chalita. 

In my humble opinion, Rav Rosenthal has adopted a very stringent understanding of the Mishna Berura. First, we do not find other poskim that require chalita when giving kitniot to children, and second, the Piskei Teshuvot did not understand the Mishna Berura in this manner. Third, it would seem to me that the Mishna Berura was only stringent for chalita (even where he does mention it, such as in times of famine or to the sick) on a lechatchila level if possible, but not as an absolute requirement for using kitniot.

Notwithstanding the debate regarding the position of the Mishna Berura, there are other reasons for not requiring chalita when giving a child kitniot. The Yechaveh Da’at[29] does not require chalita when preparing kitniot for a minor (for Ashkenazim). Furthermore, we saw above that the Mishna Berura and Aruch HaShulchan hold that regarding a rabbinically forbidden food, we rely on the opinion of the Rashba in a time of need that it is even permitted to give it to a child directly. The minhag of kitniot is even less severe than a rabbinic prohibition. Finally, Rav Ben Zion Abba Shaul in the Responsa Ohr L’tzion[30] also holds that the leniency of feeding kitniot to children on Pesach (for Ashkenazim) is based on the fact that the minhag never applied to minors.

[1] Vayikra 11:42

[2] Rambam, Ma’achalot Assurot 17:27

[3] Rashba, Yevamot 114a

[4] Responsa of the Rashba 1:92

[5] Pri Chadash, O.C. 611

[6] Shulchan Aruch, O.C. 343:1

[7] Kaf HaChaim, O.C. 343:6

[8] Shulchan Aruch HaRav, O.C. 342:6

[9] Mishna Berura 343:3

[10] The Gra is actually explaining that this is the opinion of the Rema.

[11] Masechet Pesachim 35a

[12] Rema, O.C. 453:1

[13] Smak, Mitzva 223

[14] Sefer Maharil, Minhagim, Ma’achalot Assurot mishum Pesach

[15] Ritva, Pesachim 35a

[16] Terumat HaDeshen 113

[17] Turei Zahav, O.C. 453:1

[18] Responsa Chatam Sofer, O.C. 1:122

[19] Chalita is when one places flour in boiling liquid, thereby stopping the fermenting process.  The Gemara in Pesachim 39a states that this would stop the five grains from becoming chametz, but the Geonim already prohibited using such a method, as we are no longer experts in how to do this.

[20] Mor Uketzia, siman 453

[21] Aruch HaShulchan, O.C. 453:5

[22] Chayei Adam 126:17

[23] Chayei Adam 127:1

[24] Mishna Berura 453:7

[25] Piskei Teshuvot 453:9

[26] In an article in Sefer Tal Talpiot

[27] It is clear from the Gemara (Mo’ed Katan 14b) that there is no obligation of aveilut for a minor, and we tear his clothing in order to cause agmat nefesh to the onlookers (Rashi) and not due to the fact that he is obligated.

[28] Chayei Adam 127:6

[29] Responsa Yechaveh Da’at 1:9

[30] Responsa Ohr L’tzion, O.C. 38

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