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By: Rabbi Haim Y Mamane

Pesach Policies

When Pesach comes along, we often hear some say, “These products are only prohibited for Ashkenazim but permitted for Sefaradim” or “This is only kitnyot, what could possibly be wrong?” There are indeed some significant differences in halachic criteria between Sefaradim and Ashkenazim that would result in the same item being permitted for one but prohibited for the other.

Pesach and Kitniyot

The laws of kashrut that apply on Pesach present greater challenges for kashrut certifiers than the rest of the year. Aside from chametz — products or byproducts from any of the five grains (wheat, rye, oats, barley, and spelt) where special care has not been taken in order to avoid contact with liquids — many Jewish families observe additional prohibitions against consuming kitniyot (legumes), such as rice, corn, beans, lentils, and peas.

The minhag not to consume kitniyot dates back to the era of the Rishonim. It is brought down by the Rama (Orach Chayim 453:1) and was mainly adopted by the Ashkenazic communities.

While the Sefaradim in general did not adopt this custom, this cannot serve as a blanket statement for all Sefaradim. In Morocco, for example, the approach to kitniyot differed from that of other Sefardic countries. While Moroccan Jews did consume most kitniyot, the two main exceptions they did not consume were rice and chickpeas. It would be hard to find a traditional Moroccan home, whether past or present, that consumes rice on Pesach. The same is true for chickpeas, with the exception of Spanish Moroccans, many of whom do traditionally consume chickpeas on Pesach. Additionally, certain Moroccan families and cities did not consume other kitniyot as well, such as corn, sugar, and sesame seeds.

All families are encouraged to continue to honor and adhere to the customs of their ancestors as meticulously as possible.

Kashrut in North America

Since the major kashrut organizations in North America are generally run based on Ashkenazic kashrut standards, this can be somewhat challenging and at times limiting for Sefaradim when it comes to Pesach.

It is interesting to note that Ashkenazic kashrut standards are often more lenient than Sefardic kashrut standards. A common example is bishul akum, food cooked by a non-Jew. According to Ashkenazic custom, if a Jew simply ignites the fire or the oven, the food cooked thereafter is considered bishul Yisrael, cooked by a Jew. As long as the flame remains lit, Jewish participation is no longer required. According to Sefaradim, however, Jewish participation is required in a more substantial manner for the cooking to be considered bishul Yisrael. This would involve placing, flipping, or mixing the food on the fire before it reaches the early stages of bishul.

Another common example is yashan. (The definition of yashan is beyond the scope of this article. See for a more in-depth explanation.) Although many Ashkenazim practice yashan and many kashrut organizations accommodate this, according to Sefaradim, who follow the Shulchan Aruch, the laws of yashan are much stricter, with less room for leniency than the Ashkenazim permit (see Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 293). 

Having said that, when it comes to Pesach, Ashkenazic kashrut standards are generally more stringent than those of Sefaradim. First, as mentioned above, Ashkenazim prohibit the consumption of kitniyot, and second, the Ashkenazic approach to bitul (nullification) on Pesach tends to be more stringent, as will be discussed below.

One might therefore assume that as long as a product does not contain any chametz-based ingredients, then even if it does not have a Pesach certification, it would be permitted for consumption on Pesach. One could rationalize that the only reason it has no certification is because it contains kitniyot, and the Ashkenazic kashrut organizations will therefore not certify it for Pesach — but for Sefaradim, who do consume kitniyot, what could possibly be the problem?

We will see that this is not so simple.

Industrial Kashrut

The food industry as we know it today is very complex. The methods used to produce or derive seemingly simple ingredients in reality have a whole science behind them.

For example, steric acid may be applied as a coating agent to the surface of food to polish, preserve freshness, and prevent water evaporation. This may sound innocent enough, but in reality, it is a major kashrut concern. Steric acid can be derived from both animal and plant sources, obviously requiring it to be certified as kosher.

Another common example is vitamin D, which is generally extracted from animal sources, such as the flesh of fatty fish and fish liver oils. Many foods, including dairy products, cereals, and supplements, are fortified with vitamin D.

Similar issues arise with countless other ingredients and enrichments found in everyday products.  

Another example is 100% fruit juices, what can possibly be wrong with pure squeezed oranges. Well juices before being bottled must be pasteurized. Pasteurization is a process by which a liquid is heated to a high temperature for a specific period of time, its purpose is to kills harmful bacteria. The same utensils used to heat non-kosher grape juice or other non-kosher products can be used to heat up this 100% fruit juice.

Pesach and Ingredient Lists

Aside from general kashrut, seemingly innocent ingredients can pose serious concerns for Pesach as well. A common example is citric acid. Although its name implies otherwise, citric acid is no longer derived from citrus fruits; the modern-day food industry primarily derives citric acid from corn and wheat. This means that even those who eat corn on Pesach would require kosher certification for citric acid, since it can be derived from wheat as well.

Another common ingredient is white vinegar. White vinegar is produced from fermentation of an alcohol, and most commercial white vinegar is made from either corn or grain alcohol. Even if it is known that a particular white vinegar is a corn derivative — which is generally permitted for Sefaradim —  it would not simply be an issue of kitniyot. In North America, it is common for both corn-based and wheat-based vinegars to be manufactured in the same factory. Major manufacturers in America have been found using the same recirculated water for both the corn-based and wheat-based products. This would be equivalent to preparing kosher for Pesach vegetables with steam used previously to produce pasta!

Bitul and Chozer Veneor

Well, we may ask, why can’t these potentially chametz-prone ingredients be annulled when mixed with a vast majority of non-chametz ingredients? Would this not be enough to permit for Sefaradim processed “kitniyot” foods on Pesach even without kashrut certification, on the assumption that the quantity of “concerning ingredients” present (such as citric acid or white vinegar) is small enough to be annulled?

This too may not be as simple as it sounds.

We know that when a forbidden or non-kosher item accidentally falls into kosher food, if the ratio of non-kosher to kosher in the mixture is less than 1/60th (1.6 percent) we apply the rule of batel beshishim, and the food is permitted to eat. However, Pesach is different. When chametz falls into food on Pesach, according to all opinions, we do not apply this bitul whatsoever — to the point that even if the ratio of chametz to non-chametz was 1/1000th, the food would be considered chametz and prohibited to eat.

However, chametz that fell into food prior to Pesach at a ratio of 1/60th is a subject of much discussion among the greatest poskim. In this case, would we consider the chametz annulled before Pesach as with other prohibited foods around the year and permit its consumption, or would we say that chametz mixed in even prior to Pesach can never be annulled just as it cannot be annulled when it fell during Pesach? In halachic terms, this is referred to as “Is chametz on Pesach chozer veneor rewakened?” Does the 1/60th chametz annulled prior to Pesach “reawaken” on Pesach to the point that we would require a “new” bitul, which as mentioned, cannot be accomplished on Pesach and is therefore prohibited. Or is chametz eno chozer veneor — not reawakened” on Pesach, and therefore once it is annulled prior to Pesach, it is forever permitted? 

The Ashkenazim follow the opinion of the Rama that chametz is “chozer veneor,” which means it “reawakens” and is therefore prohibited during Pesach. The opinion of the Shulchan Aruch, on the other hand, is less clear cut. His approach contains an apparent contradiction, resulting in a debate among the poskim regarding the circumstances in which the Shulchan Aruch would or would not apply bitul on chametz that fell prior to Pesach.

Some believe that the Shulchan Aruch limits the bittul only to chametz that inadvertently fell in the mixture, if intentionally placed (such as the listed ingredients in commercial products) the chametz would reawaken and be prohibited on Pesach. Others limit the bittul only to chametz that does not play an integral role in the product. However, chametz that is integral to the product, such as for structure (davar ha’maamid) or for taste, would reawaken on Pesach and therefore be prohibited for consumption.

Many of the greatest Sefardic poskim, notably the Chid”a, (see Birkeh Yossef siman 447, halacha 17) abstain from permitting any chametz that fell into food before Pesach. This was as well the opinion of HaRav Rephael Baruch Toledano who writes lekatchilla one should be stringent on all matters of chozer veneor. (See Kitzur Shulchan Aruch Toledano, Hilchot Pesach, siman 397, halachah 35)

More than 1/60th

It is important to remember that the above discussion is based on the premise that there was a valid bitul. In many scenarios, the chametz ingredient is not batel and the mixture is therefore prohibited irrespective of whether chametz is chozer veneor or not. Remember, the ingredient must be less than 1.6 percent of the mixture before we can even begin discussing if it is annulled! This is another reason why only a kashrut agency can reliably certify a product: many companies will not reveal the true formula of their products, so, at times, it is impossible for consumers to know whether they contain chametz-prone ingredients at a quantity that can be nullified.

I was recently informed about specific brand of a seemingly only “kitnyot” Milk Substitute. The year round Kosher certifiers of that specific product confirmed to us that the formula consisted of oat milk (which is chametz) at a ratio more than 1/60th (a ratio that is forbidden according to all). However, being that that oat milk was less than 2%, it was not listed as an ingredient. This is something that a consumer cannot know and information that a company may not reveal!


For year-round certification, kashrut agencies hire and rely upon trained experts to study the sourcing and manufacturing methods for hundreds of the ingredients used in the modern food industry. Certainly, Pesach deserves at least the same attention and expertise! Even the more knowledgeable consumer may not be aware of the intricacies of this fascinating yet complex industry, let alone the sourcing and quantity of the ingredients used in their products. 

On Pesach, one should strive to abstain himself from all safek chametz. In fact, the Ariza”l states, “One who is careful about the most minuscule amount of chametz on Pesach is guaranteed not to sin the entire year.”   

The MK has launched a new project that places emphasis on providing the Sefardic community with carefully supervised Kosher for Pesach kitniyot products that we all know and love. As we hope you now understand, this can be done neither overnight nor in a couple of months. It is the MK’s priority to keep its eyes open from the moment the Pesach utensils have been stowed away until the following year! With the tireless efforts of our dedicated kashrut team, we hope the community will reap the benefits in the years to come.

Leshanah habaah beYerushalayim habenuyah

Chag Pesach kasher vesameach

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