Rice and Beans
I just got married and have an important question: Can we eat rice on Passover? My wife grew up eating it, and I did not. Is this just a matter of family tradition?
The Aish Rabbi Replies:
The Torah instructs a Jew not to eat (or even possess) chametz all seven days of Passover (Exodus 13:3). "Chametz" is defined as any of the five grains (wheat, spelt, barley, oats, and rye) that came into contact with water for more than 18 minutes. Chametz is a serious Torah prohibition, and for that reason we take extra protective measures on Passover to prevent any mistakes.
Hence the category of food called "kitniyot" (sometimes referred to generically as "legumes"). This includes rice, corn, soy beans, string beans, peas, lentils, peanuts, mustard, sesame seeds and poppy seeds. Even though kitniyot cannot technically become chametz, Ashkenazi Jews do not eat them on Passover. Why?
Products of kitniyot often appear like chametz products. For example, it can be hard to distinguish between rice flour (kitniyot) and wheat flour (chametz). Also, chametz grains may become inadvertently mixed together with kitniyot. Therefore, to prevent confusion, all kitniyot were prohibited.
In Jewish law, there is one important distinction between chametz and kitniyot. During Passover, it is forbidden to even have chametz in one's possession (hence the custom of "selling chametz"). Whereas it is permitted to own kitniyot during Passover and even to use it - not for eating - but for things like baby powder which contains cornstarch. Similarly, someone who is sick is allowed to take medicine containing kitniyot.
What about derivatives of kitniyot - e.g. corn oil, peanut oil, etc? This is a difference of opinion. Many will use kitniyot-based oils on Passover, while others are strict and only use olive or walnut oil.
Finally, there is one product called "quinoa" (pronounced "ken-wah" or "kin-o-ah") that is permitted on Passover even for Ashkenazim. Although it resembles a grain, it is technically a grass, and was never included in the prohibition against kitniyot. It is prepared like rice and has a very high protein content. (It's excellent in "cholent" stew!) In the United States and elsewhere, mainstream kosher supervision agencies certify it "Kosher for Passover" -- look for the label.
Interestingly, the Sefardi Jewish community does not have a prohibition against kitniyot. This creates the strange situation, for example, where one family could be eating rice on Passover - when their neighbors will not. So am I going to guess here that you are Ashkenazi and your wife is Sefardi. Am I right?
(sources: Maimonides - Laws of Chametz and Matzah 5:1; Code of Jewish Law - O.C. 453)