Did you know?: The myth that ALL Sephardim eat rice.

RiceDid you know that some of the most Sephardic of Sephardim simply do not eat rice at all during Pesach? Yes, it’s true! Recently I interviewed a woman (thank you FaceTime!) straight from her Gibraltar apartment who informed me that while all other kitniyot (such as beans, chickpeas, peas, string beans) were permitted during the holiday week, rice simply was never something that they would eat. I was surprised, and said to her, “But Spain is right there, and Spanish is one of your main languages. Surely you are just about as Sephardic as it gets!?” After speaking with so many Jews from all over the Middle Eastern, Mediterranean, and even Asian world, I have come to realize that this Ashkenazic belief is not completely true. While most non-Ashkenazim do eat rice, there are still many that never did and still do not. The reasons are not clear, but it seems that those communities who had rice as a staple in their diet going back centuries were most likely permitted to consume rice for Passover (but not without it’s strict sorting and cleaning requirements). Another reason may have had more to do with the local rabbi at the time, and his final decision (which could have been based upon several interpretations of the laws of kashrut) as to what was considered chametz.

QUESTION: Any other Sephardim out there that don’t eat rice? Let me know!

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9 thoughts on “Did you know?: The myth that ALL Sephardim eat rice.

  1. Dahlia Abraham-Klein March 24, 2014 at 10:26 am Reply

    Jennifer, I think that the reason why some Sephardim don’t eat rice on Passover is because they were not in a predominately rice eating country – like Spain and Gibraltar for example. The Mizrachi Jews from Central Asia eat rice because it was part of their staple diet. Also, I think that the reason why some Jews don’t eat rice all together and kitniyot is because in ancient times the rice, grains and beans shared the same saks.

    • Jennifer Abadi March 24, 2014 at 11:25 am Reply

      Yes that’s all true Dahlia. In these two communities, where rice is such a staple (and really integral part) of the diet, the rice is not only accepted, but expected! In other “Sephardic” communities rice became accepted later on, but not originally (after all in places like Syria, rice came much later and bulgur wheat was the staple grain!) I would imagine that at some point potato flour and/or starch was also kept in sacks (much like rice), and yet Ashkenazim have always been permitted to continue with eating potatoes!

  2. Haim Victor Cadranel March 24, 2014 at 10:36 am Reply

    My family came from Turkey and our ancestors from Spain. We never ate rice on Pessach. I now leave in South Africa ( born in the Congo ) and we also do not eat rice.
    We still sing the Haggada in Ladino ( Spanish )
    Victor

    • Jennifer Abadi March 24, 2014 at 11:18 am Reply

      I think that the Turkish community is a little similar to the Syrian community where rice was not always something served during Passover, but over the years has become more accepted, at least in the United States.

  3. Dianne Cadesky March 24, 2014 at 10:43 am Reply

    Greek Jews do not eat rice, chick peas or beans but like the lady in Gibraltor, they eat peas, string beans

    • Jennifer Abadi March 24, 2014 at 11:17 am Reply

      I have found that generally rice was not served as a full or side dish by many Greeks at the Seder table, but by some you might find a stuffed vegetable dish (with or without meat) that usually had some rice in it.

  4. Nathan April 7, 2014 at 10:51 am Reply

    There is a distinction between rice being not eaten because of a custom banning it (like Ashkenazim) and because it wasn’t a normal part of the cuisine. Rambam clearly mentions eating rice in his list of Pesach foods, which interestingly was censored in some later references. The reason some Sephardim, notably some Moroccans, do not eat some things such as rice during Pesach may be from the influence of R. Asher ben Yechiel (“The Rosh”), a noted rabbinic leader from the Germany/France region that fled to Spain and brought some of his halakhik perspective.

  5. dsarna April 14, 2016 at 10:35 am Reply

    Many but not all Jews from Morrocco have always refrained from eating kitniyot on Pesach. Most do not eat beans, legumes, corn, rice, or millet on Pessach.

    Jews from Bagdahd also do not eat rice.

    Bucharian Jews are from Central Asia and are not considered Sephardic in the traditional sense.
    During Passover, they will eat rice, however, they will not eat peas, corn or cabbage.

    Indian Jews will eat rice during Passover, however, they will not eat legumes such as peas or beans.

    And as you noted, Jews from Spain and nearby Gibraltar also don’t eat rice.

    Here’s why:
    The Smak (Rabbi Yitzchak of Korbol) explains that products of kitniyot appear like chametz products. For example, it can be hard to distinguish between rice flour (kitniyot) and wheat flour (chametz). Therefore, to prevent confusion, all kitniyot was prohibited.
    The Beit Yosef (Rabbi Yosef Karo, 16th century, Israel) notes that since regular grains may become mixed together with kitniyot (apparently due to changes in crop cycles), one may inadvertently come to eat actual chametz not positive fermentation.
    The Tur 453:1 writes that the minhag of his location was not to eat kitniyot on Pesach. The Rabbenu Yerucham (cited by the Beit Yosef 453:1), Rabbenu Yechiel (cited by Beit Yosef 453:1), and Shulchan Aruch 453:1 agree.
    The Smak (cited by the Beit Yosef 453:1) explains that the minhag not to eat kitniyot on Pesach is concerned that perhaps a person will be confused between a bread or cooked dish made from kitniyot and one made from the five grains. Additionally, kitniyot flour sometimes has flour of the five grains mixed in. The Darkei Moshe 453:1, codified in the Rama 453:1, writes that the Ashkenazic minhag is to not to eat kitniyot on Pesach and one shouldn’t deviate from the minhag.
    The Shulchan Aruch 453:1 writes that it is permitted to eat a cooked dish made out of Kitniyot. The Rama 453:1 writes that the minhag Ashkenaz was to forbid and one shouldn’t change this minhag. This is quoted by ashkenazic poskim including Darchei Moshe 453:2, Levush 453:1, Chayei Adam 127:1, Aruch Hashulchan 453:4, Elya Rabba 453:3, Prisha 453:3, Kitzur S:A, Daat Torah page 119. see also Yechave Daat 1:9 and 5:32 as well as Kaf Hachaim 453:11. Aruch Hashulchan 453:4 says that being lenient in this minhag is testimony that one does not fear Hashem or fear sin, and does not understand the ways of Torah.
    Those authorities concerned with these three issues suggested that by avoiding eating kitniyot, people would be better able to avoid chametz The Vilna Gaon (Hagaos HaGra, 453) indeed actually cites a novel source for this custom. The Gemorah in Pesachim (40b) notes that Rava objected to the workers of the Raish Geluta (the Exilarch) cooking a food called chasisi on Pesach, since it was wont to be confused with chametz. The Tosefos explain that, according to the Aruch, chasisi are lentils, and thus, argues the Gra, establishes the basis for the concern of kitniyot.

    • Jennifer Abadi April 14, 2016 at 12:57 pm Reply

      Thank you so much for this detailed explanation David! Yes as you said, the rules of whether or not to eat kitniyot vary a lot from country to country, and in some cases, even city to city in the same country. In many cases the rule not to eat certain ingredients came about simply to avoid making a “mistake” where a sack of flour might be confused with a sack of rice.

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