As the first Seder approaches tomorrow night at sundown, it is the tradition in many homes to follow the ritual of b’dikat chametz (Hebrew for, “search for chametz“) to find and discard those very last crumbs considered forbidden during Passover. The tradition is to carry a lit candle and a feather (or something wooden like a small spoon) and sweep up the crumbs into a paper bag. The next morning the bag with all of its contents is to be burned. Many have traditions where the ritual is more like a game where pieces of bread are hidden in a room for children to look for and find.
Vivienne Roumani-Denn, the Libyan scholar and filmmaker (“The Last Jews of Libya”) shared with me her memories of how her father performed this pre-Passover ritual at home:
“For the b’dikat hametz, there was literally no chance that there was any hametz left — they took it very seriously. I remember my father used to take a knife, because it had a sharp edge, and wrap it with a cloth and go into every nook and cranny to remove any possible breadcrumb. He would run the knife around the corners, and you know how there’s a crack between where your stove meets your countertop? He would take the skinniest knife and would clean that space out. And you started minimizing what you bought (the hametz you bought) you planned ahead. We didn’t really do the “selling” business — you just didn’t have it. First of all it was kind of easy because we didn’t eat too many processed foods anyway. So you know, flour — you just made sure that you didn’t have any by the time it got close.”
Many ingredients that are innately kosher the rest of the year, may not be considered kosher during Passover week. While certain foods (such as pasta, cereals, breads, and pastries) are more obviously considered chametz (forbidden) for all, the restrictions for other ingredients vary according to Jewish community. The Ashkenazim are most strict with their rules, and in addition to rice consider all legumes or kitniyot (meaning “little things” in Hebrew) such as beans, peas, corn, and peanuts unanimously forbidden, placing them in the chametz category. In the non-Ashkenazic communities however, the restrictions on specific legumes vary according to community, rabbi, and perhaps even geography or family. Chickpeas are just one of those legumes. Many Sephardim consume all or several types of legumes (in the Syrian world green beans are a Passover favorite, while Egyptian and Moroccans enjoy fava beans), and in Israel one can even find kosher for Passover (KLP) chummus sold in stores. One interesting explanation I heard for this mysterious exclusion is that the word chummus (meaning “chickpeas” in Hebrew — the same word for the popular Middle Eastern spread) sounds too much like the word chametz, so in order to avoid any confusion with the word Ashkenazic rabbis (not as familiar with chickpeas in Europe) decided to forbid it all together. Another reasoning is that these “little things” are often mixed and prepared with grains, or have the potential of being ground up into something resembling flour, which could be mistaken for one of the five grains used in making proper Passover matzah, but this doesn’t make too much sense to me. All forms of potatoes, including potato flour, are accepted by Ashkenazim during Passover without concern that they will be confused for regular flour, so why do legumes pose a risk in this regard? Perhaps it simply comes down to culture and tradition, and since potatoes were abundant and commonly used in Eastern Europe and not chickpeas, then maybe this is the original (and not so technical) reason.
I pose a question to all of you out there:
Do you eat legumes during Passover?
If so, which ones?