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Jewish Holidays, Jewish Holidays Guide

A Sephardic Guide for Pesach

Here is a list of the differences between Sephardic and Ashkenazic Passover practices. This list concentrates on differences in relation to the dietary laws of Halachah and rabbinical opinions, and includes some differences between Sephardic and Ashkenazic Passover customs. To read about additional differences in Passover customs and traditions between Sephardim and Ashkenazim, just click on the: Sephardic Passover Customs and Traditions page, and Ashkenazic Passover Customs and Traditions page, respectively.

Sephardic and Ashkenazic Passover differences in the dietary laws of Halachah are mainly with the subject of kitniyos (approximately translated as “bits” in Hebrew), that is, with the permission or prohibition against eating kitniyot (generally speaking, kitniyot are small fleshless seeds of annual plants that an individual might ground into flour), and their derivatives in other products. Kitniyos (“kitniyot” in the singular tense) can be ground into flour and baked and/or cooked in a similar manner as the five grains that can become chametz (barley, spelt, rye, oats, and wheat). Examples of kitniyos include: ascorbic acid, calcium ascorbate, caraway seeds, castor sugar, chick peas, citric acid, corn, custard powder, dextrose, dried beans, dried peas, glucose, green beans, icing sugar, lecithin, lentils, mustard, rice, sesame seeds, soya beans, soya products, starch, sunflower seeds, tofu, and their derivatives in food and beverage products. Sephardim follow the opinion of the Bait Yosef (or Beit Yosef), written by Rabbi Joseph Karo (16th century, Israel), which permits the use of kitniyot in Passover cooking and its consumption during Passover. Most, but not all of the Sephardim use kitniyos in their Passover cooking and consume kitniyos during the Passover festival. It varies from community to community.

Ashkenazim follow the opinion of “The Smak” (an acronym for Rabbi Moshe of Kouchi, 13th century, France), an Ashkenazic rabbi who stated that the products of kitniyot look like products from chametz. Chametz includes leavened foods, drinks and ingredients that are made from or contain wheat, rye, barley, oats or spelt. In addition, leavening agents such as yeast are also considered to be chametz. Therefore, all grain products such as breads, cereals and other breakfast foods, grain alcohol, grain vinegar and malts, are forbidden during Passover. For instance, rice flour (kitniyot) might be difficult to distinguish from wheat flour (chametz). So to prevent this potential confusion, all kitniyot were banned for Ashkenazim. Later on, Rabbi Moshe Isserlis (16th century, Poland), who is known as the “Ramah”, supported the prohibition by “The Smak” and banned the consumption of any foodstuffs or foodstuffs made with kitniyos.

The Kashrut.org forum–This is the place where you can ask whether something is Kosher for Pesach. This is an essential site for Sephardim, who need to know what we can eat independent of the Kashrut organizations and their Ashkenazi Pesach Heschers. Rabbi Abadi used to be the Posek of Lakewood, so I think you can rely upon his rulings. The site also offers an essential list of Pesach items–with specifications for Ashkenazim, Sephardim, or Both–which is completely downloadable for the cost of a small donation to their Kollel. (Please don’t cheat and share it with others. Rabbi Abadi and his Kollel do a lot of work on this list every year, and they really do need the money for the Kollel. If you are planning to download a list and share it with two other people, please pay the $5 fee X 3. It is worth the fee, it is a very minimal amount of money, and anything less is theft.)

Passover Guide: I am linking the Chabad Passover Guide rather than the OU passover guide because the Chabad Passover guide acknowledges that Sephardim and Ashkenazim have different customs–which I think is a lot more sensitive. The best thing is to make sure you check with your Local  Rabbi or  (LOR) for the specifics of your case. Please remember that Pessach cleaning is NOT Spring Cleaning (my husband constantly reminds me of this), and you shouldn’t go overboard. For example, many rabbis say it is acceptable to spray areas you can’t easily reach with windex or another form of cleaning product in order to nullify any chametz that would be there, etc. Also, you don’t need to make your house look like a tin-foil temple–there are some ways around this if you just ask!! (Yes, that IS what our rabbis are for!!)


About Orekh Schriftsteller

Orekh Schriftsteller. It is the online pen-name of author and Managing Director of DM Enterprises.


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