Rabbis’ Rules on Rice

By Wendy Belzberg

Published April 18, 2003, issue of April 18, 2003.
  • Print
  • Share Share

Every year as Passover approaches I wonder why there are so many different points of view about what is acceptable to eat over the holiday. This year I’m asking Wendy: Why can’t I eat rice on Passover?

Sorting the chaff

An accident of birth — or your ancestors’ birth, to be more precise — seems to separate you from your neighbors who are permitted to eat rice during Passover. While rice is technically kosher for Passover, Ashkenazim do not eat it. The explanation given is that rice could be confused with other grains that constitute chometz (leavened foods). Sephardim have a different custom and usually permit rice during Passover. But like all things concerning Judaism, there is room for interpretation and dissent. Rabbi David Golinkin, president of the Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies in Israel, recently decreed that Conservative Jews living in Israel are permitted to eat rice during Passover. Who knows, perhaps Ashkenazic Jews worldwide will one day follow suit, making this holiday indeed different than those celebrated by generations past.

* * *

I heard somewhere that a gift of salt and flour brings good fortune to a new home. Is this a Jewish tradition, and is there a blessing that goes with it?

— With a grain of salt

Flour is a new one to me, but there is a Jewish tradition of bringing salt to a new home. Bread and candles are also traditional. Salt is a reminder of the sacrifices that took place during the Temple era; bread symbolizes an abundance of food, and candles represent light and joy. All are lovely symbols and gestures. For the record, wishes for a sweet and robust life accompanied by a box of Godiva chocolates seems just as thoughtful — maybe more. Blessings associated with dedicating a new home are said when the mezuza is placed on the doorpost, the most important ceremony associated with moving.

* * *

On a recent trip to Egypt I visited the pyramids. Am I to believe that the pyramids are the handiwork of the Jews we read about each Passover who were slaves in Egypt? Also, I was taught that all Jews at that time lived in Egypt. If so, were they the forebears of us all?

— Monuments to slavery?

Your second question is slightly less difficult to answer than the first. According to the Bible, all of the Jews at the time were in Egypt although, according to rabbinic understanding, not all were slaves. Which is not to say that every Jew is descended from those who made the exodus from Egypt. There have been plenty of conversions and intermarriages along the way.

As for the first part of your question, the task of mediating among the rabbis, Charlton Heston and National Geographic is too big even for me. Suffice it to say that opinions and beliefs vary about who built the pyramids and when. I don’t believe there is a conclusive answer to your query. The good news is that the answers depend on the power of interpretation — which is what the reading of the Passover Haggada is about. As we are reminded every year at the Seder, asking the question is more important than finding the answer.

* * *

At a recent family gathering, one of my sisters asked her husband to take a picture of our family: my parents, siblings and the grandchildren. No spouses. My wife felt slighted and thought that everyone should have been included. Were we insensitive?

— Picture imperfect

Perhaps it would have been more diplomatic had your sister started with a full group shot and then (allegedly on a whim) pared it down to your immediate family. I can understand how your wife could have been hurt. Having said that, I have a message for her: Grow up! Your parents and siblings predate her arrival, even your courtship. If your wife can’t understand that, the problem is hers.

Write to “Ask Wendy” at 954 Lexington Avenue #189, New York, N.Y. 10021 or at wendy@forward.com.






Find us on Facebook!
  • The sign reads: “Dogs are allowed in this establishment but Zionists are not under any circumstances.”
  • Is Twitter Israel's new worst enemy?
  • More than 50 former Israeli soldiers have refused to serve in the current ground operation in #Gaza.
  • "My wife and I are both half-Jewish. Both of us very much felt and feel American first and Jewish second. We are currently debating whether we should send our daughter to a Jewish pre-K and kindergarten program or to a public one. Pros? Give her a Jewish community and identity that she could build on throughout her life. Cons? Costs a lot of money; She will enter school with the idea that being Jewish makes her different somehow instead of something that you do after or in addition to regular school. Maybe a Shabbat sing-along would be enough?"
  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • "It pains and shocks me to say this, but here goes: My father was right all along. He always told me, as I spouted liberal talking points at the Shabbos table and challenged his hawkish views on Israel and the Palestinians to his unending chagrin, that I would one day change my tune." Have you had a similar experience?
  • "'What’s this, mommy?' she asked, while pulling at the purple sleeve to unwrap this mysterious little gift mom keeps hidden in the inside pocket of her bag. Oh boy, how do I answer?"
  • "I fear that we are witnessing the end of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see no possibility for resolution right now. I look into the future and see only a void." What do you think?
  • Not a gazillionaire? Take the "poor door."
  • "We will do what we must to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else. No more apologies."
  • "Woody Allen should have quit while he was ahead." Ezra Glinter's review of "Magic in the Moonlight": http://jd.fo/f4Q1Q
  • Jon Stewart responds to his critics: “Look, obviously there are many strong opinions on this. But just merely mentioning Israel or questioning in any way the effectiveness or humanity of Israel’s policies is not the same thing as being pro-Hamas.”
  • "My bat mitzvah party took place in our living room. There were only a few Jewish kids there, and only one from my Sunday school class. She sat in the corner, wearing the right clothes, asking her mom when they could go." The latest in our Promised Lands series — what state should we visit next?
  • Former Israeli National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror: “A cease-fire will mean that anytime Hamas wants to fight it can. Occupation of Gaza will bring longer-term quiet, but the price will be very high.” What do you think?
  • Should couples sign a pre-pregnancy contract, outlining how caring for the infant will be equally divided between the two parties involved? Just think of it as a ketubah for expectant parents:
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.