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Why and when did the minhag start that allows Sephardim to eat Kitnios (Legumes)but not Ashkenazim?

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The earliest written source for this custom seems to be Semak (Sefer Mitzvos Katan, also known as Amudei Golah, by Rabbi Yitzchak of Corbeil, 13th century), mitzvah 222 note 12. Evidently it goes back somewhat further than that, though, since he calls it "דבר שנוהגין בו העולם איסור מימי חכמים הקדמונים" - "something that people have customarily treated as forbidden since the days of the early sages."

At any rate, it seems to have started as an Ashkenazic custom, and was never accepted by Sephardic Jews in the first place.

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Maybe I need to translate more? –  Yahu Mar 19 '10 at 17:32
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Your answer is indeed a lot more thorough, and by rights it probably should be the accepted one. I think when this one was accepted, yours wasn't written yet, and Ken simply hasn't revisited this question. –  Alex Mar 19 '10 at 19:21
    
And by the way, I never said that the minhag started with the Semak, simply that as far as I knew he was the first to have written about it. Note my "evidently it goes back somewhat further than that, though...." –  Alex Mar 19 '10 at 19:22
    
Oh, I never intended to imply I thought you said it started with the Semak. Sorry if it came across that way. –  Yahu Mar 19 '10 at 22:03
    
I understood that you thought it was the first mention and from one perspective it may be true. If the Semak wrote Amudei Golah before Sefer HeMenuchah was written, then from the perspective of direct quotes, the Semak could be first. But that is all moot since the bottom line is that Rabbeinu Manoach is quoting verbatim from Sefer Haminhagos. –  Yahu Mar 19 '10 at 22:09
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The first mention of the מנהג of the בני אשׁכנז to not eat קטניוֹת on פסח is from 12th century- Provence, in southern France: רבינוּ אשׁר בר שאוּל מלוּניל wrote ספר המנהגוֹת, a work on the customs of his area, which unfortunately is not extant in full today. The following quote from the רבינוּ אשר survives in רבינוּ מנוֹח’s ספר המנוּחה on the רמב"ם. Rabbeinu Manoach himself is from late 13th century לוּניל, so it figures that he would have access to the ספרים of Rabbeinu Asher. He says:

ספר המנוּחה על הרמב"ם לרבינוּ מנוֹח פרק ה' מהלכוֹת חוּ"מ הל' א' בא"ד וכתוּב בספר המנהגוֹת "ונהגוּ כל העוֹלם (!) שׁלא לאכוֹל זרעוֹנים בפסח מפני שׁהם מחמיצים ועל כן נקראין חימצי" It appears that רבינוּ אשׁר בר שׁאוּל מלוּניל was not much of a traveler! “כל העוֹלם”? Not only did our brothers in ספרד as well as in other countries not have this prohibition, but even years later there were many great Ashkenazic ראשׁוֹנים that ate קטניוֹת on פסח! What רבנוּ אשׁר fails to mention is when the מנהג was instituted.

The next mention of the מנהג is in the sefer called עמוּדי גוֹלה, popularly known as the ספר המצות הקטן. It was published by רבנוּ יצחק of קוֹרבֵיל, France, in the year 1277.

As far as derived sources are concerned both the פרי חדשׁ and later on the גר"א find possible origins of the מנהג in a תוֹספוֹת on פסחים דף מ:. The גמרא there says:

תלמוד בבלי מסכת פסחים דף מ/ב רב פפי שרי ליה לבורדיקי דבי ריש גלותא לממחה קדירה בחסיסי אמר רבא איכא דשרי כי האי מילתא בדוכתא דשכיחי עבדי איכא דאמרי רבא גופא מחי לה קידרא בחסיסי

Rashi explains that the case was that they or he was preparing a cooked dish with flour made from roasted wheat kernels. Tosafos object to this understanding because it was previously stated undisputedly that one may not use such flour for cooking or baking on פסח. Instead the ר"י says

תוספות פסחים דף מ/ב רבא מחו ליה קידרא בחסיסי - פ"ה קימחא דאבישונא וקשה דהא לעיל (דף לט:) אסרינן וליכא מאן דפליג ונראה לר"י כדפירש בערוך בחסיסי קמח של עדשים דאין דרכם לבא לידי חימוץ כל כך:

The ר"י is giving a reason why it would be okay to cook with lentil flour according to the second לשוֹן of the גמרא. Acc. to the first לשׁוֹן, in a place where it is usual to have servants, and they would not be careful, one should not cook with even lentil flour. Since we are much lower today, it is always considered “a place where it is usual to have servants” and קטניוֹת are prohibited. In researching the reasons given for the איסוּר of קטניוֹת you will come across two categories of reasons: One may get mixed up between the קטניוֹת and חמץ: אתי לאיחלוּפי. This is a problem because of people who are ignorant. and There is a real worry that one may end up eating חמץ.

In the ספר המנהגוֹת we encountered the first mention of איסוּר קטניוֹת and the reason given was:

ספר המנוּחה על הרמב"ם לרבינוּ מנוֹח פרק ה' מהלכוֹת חוּ"מ הל' א' בא"ד וכתוּב בספר המנהגוֹת "ונהגוּ כל העוֹלם (!) שׁלא לאכוֹל זרעוֹנים בפסח מפני שׁהם מחמיצים ועל כן נקראין חימצי"

When he says שׁהם מחמיצים do not make the mistake of thinking that he made a mistake and thought that they are actually חמץ. Rather the word חמץ really means “sour” and yes, if one soaks קטניוֹת they will eventually become sour and they are even called חימצי.

The גר"א and the פר"ח before him, clearly hold this as the reason as well, from the fact that the ר"י in תוֹס' in reference to the lentil flour says

קמח של עדשים דאין דרכם לבא לידי חימוץ כל כך

This clearly means that if רבא did have a problem with making a cooked dish out of lentil flour it would be because of חימוּץ. Once again this use of the word חימוּץ is based on the fact that when these foods rot they turn sour.

Rabbeinu Manoach has problems with ספר המנהגוֹת’s reason, and gives a few attempts of his own. At the end he says a very strong reason:

אחר זה מצאתי כתוּב שׁישׁ מין אחד הנקרא ויצאש והם מגרגרים שׁל חטה שׁמשתנים בארץ בתבניתם וטבעם כמין הזונין שבשׁנה שׁאינה שׁל ברכה יוֹצאת התבוּאה מדרך היוֹשׁר וחוֹזרת. זוֹנין מלשוֹן כי זנה תזנה הארץ (הוֹשע א). וּבשׁנה גשׁוּמה חוֹזרת התבוּאה ויצאש וקוֹרין אוֹתה ויצאשׁ פורמנטלש ועל כן אסרוּ כל קטניוֹת וזה הטעם יש לוֹ שׁרשׁ:

According to this there is a legitimate worry that one may end up eating חמץ if one is permitted to eat קטניוֹת, irrespective of one’s תוֹרה knowledge! Some Sefardic communities do not eat rice or other קטניוֹת on פסח for this very reason. (פר"ח)

The סמ"ק gives three reasons that all have to do with someone getting mixed up. He says: מטעם גזירה הוא, דכיון דקטניוֹת מעשה קדרה הוא ודגן נמי מעשה קדרה הוא וגם מידי דמידגן הוא כמוֹ חמשת המינים וכו' .... וגם יש מקוֹמוֹת שׁרגילין לעשוֹת מהם פת כמוֹ מחמשת המינים ולכן אתוּ לאיחלוּפי לאוֹתן שאינן בני תוֹרה, ולא דמי למיני ירקוֹת וכו'

It appears that since they have these similarities to bread, even if they do not use it that way here, we are worried that those who are not בני תוֹרה will mix them up with the ה' מינים. One could deduce from here that it is a combination of these similarities that brought about the מנהג of not eating קטניוֹת.

The טוּר and perhaps others before him give another reason:

טור אורח חיים סימן תנג ויש אוסרין לאכול אורז וכל מיני קטניות בתבשיל לפי שמיני חטין מתערבין בהן, וחומרא יתירא היא This reason is also a real legitimate worry that one may end up eating חמץ if one is permitted to eat קטניוֹת, irrespective of one’s תוֹרה knowledge! Based on this even the ספרדים must check their קטניוֹת 3 times before פסח in order to use it on פסח.

The last reasoning that I have come across as to why בני אשׁכנז do not eat something that we categoriized as קטניוֹת on פסח is from the רמ"א. When the רמ"א later on in סימן תס"ד tells us that the מנהג is not to eat mustard on פסח he says that the reason is because it is similar to קטניוֹת. The ט"ז explains that it is similar in the fact that mustard grows in שׁרביטין, in pods. What we need to understand at this point is that acc. to the ט"ז, if not for the fact that it grows in a pod, any other similarities of mustard to קטניוֹת would not have been enough to forbid mustard on פסח. The truth is that there is only one other similarity and that is that it is מידי דמדגן. What is strange is that the ט"ז’s reason has nothing to do with the ה' מיני דגן! That makes it appear as if this is a גזירה for the protection of another גזירה!

We have discovered that there are two categories of reasons why קטניוֹת is אסוּר for אשׁכנזים on פסח: A. Due to legitimate concerns that even בני תוֹרה could end up eating חמץ and B. Due to ignorance, people may mix up what they are allowed to do with קטניוֹת as opposed to the ה' מיני דגן.

We must realize that even if these reasons were gone we have no authority to do away with the מנהג. Doing so can get one into trouble with איסוּרי דאוֹרייתא!

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It has been the דרך of many צדיקים that besides for the reasons that were קוֹבע, that set up the הלכה, they also would look for philosophical meaning behind the customs that we take on. They base it on the fact that there is a deep subconscious will of the בני ישראל to connect to Hashem’s will.

Being a curious fellow, I pondered if there could be any Midrashic idea which would connect the מנהג of not eating קטניוֹת to the חג of פסח and perhaps I found something:

תנא דבי אליהו רבה פרק ז ארבה מפני מה בא עליהם מפני ששמו את ישראל זורעי חטים ושעורים ופול ועדשים וכל מיני קטניות כדי שלא יכנסו ישראל אל בתיהם ושלא יפרו וירבו לפיכך הביא הקב"ה עליהם את הארבה ואכל כל מה שזרעו ישראל שנאמר (שם י) ויעל הארבה על כל ארץ מצרים וגו' ויאכל את כל עשב הארץ וגו'.

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