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Pass Over the Peanut Oil

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Topic: Kitniot = Peanut Oil?

Carol & Barry Stein wrote:

Dear Rabbi,

Why, in the United States, at Pesach, is it OK to cook with peanut oil, but not to eat peanuts? We've tried unsuccessfully to get an answer to this question for at least 25 years. Now, having harnessed the power of the Internet, we eagerly await your response.

David Kaplan wrote:
Shalom, I have a question which as you can see concerns the 'laws' and traditions governing what one may eat during Passover. I cannot understand why Sephardic Jews are allowed to eat beans, legumes and rice on Passover and Ashkenazic Jews are not. This is not the same as eating pork or milk and meat obviously. I really find this a difficult issue to come to terms with. Please help. Thanking you in anticipation.

Dear Carol and Barry Stein & David Kaplan,

Kitniot is the Hebrew word for all types of legumes, such as peanuts, peas and beans, and cereal grasses such as rice and corn.

According to the Torah, kitniot are permitted on Passover because kitniot are not considered chametz (leaven).

But kitniot are similar to chametz in that they swell when water is added, and people often use them as a flour substitute. Furthermore, kitniot are often stored together with grain, and sometimes a bit of grain gets mixed into the kitniot. For these reasons, Ashkenazic Jews throughout the centuries have adopted the practice to refrain from kitniot during Passover.

Sephardic Jews, however, never adopted this practice. Therefore, they are allowed to eat kitniot, provided they check it to make sure there's no wheat mixed in. (For this reason, some Sephardic Jews also have the custom to refrain from rice, although they eat other types of kitniot.)

Now about peanut oil. Oil derived from kitniot no longer resembles chametz because it no longer swells when you add water. Rabbi Tzvi Pesach Frank, zatzal, a former Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem, cites an opinion that kitniot derivatives are therefore permitted. Many people in the United States follow this ruling and use kitniot-based oil on Passover. Many are strict, however, and use olive or walnut oil. Sources:

  • Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 453:1
  • Ibid. Mishnah Berurah 6
  • Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, Yabia Omer 5:37:5

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