SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
American Jews may be able to put more on their plates than just matzo for the next week of Passover. The Rabbinical Assembly, an international group of rabbis within the conservative denomination of Judaism, says it's now all right to eat rice, beans and corn on Passover. You've got rabbinical permission.
Rabbi Amy Levin co-wrote the opinion issued back in December. She's a rabbi at Rodeph Sholom in Bridgeport, Conn. We ought to say that we recorded this interview before the Sabbath. After all, it's Saturday. The rabbi joins us from the studios of WSHU in Fairfield, Conn. Thanks so much for being with us.
AMY LEVIN: It's a pleasure being with you.
SIMON: Now, the prohibition, if you please, against rice, beans and corn, that was among Ashkenazi Jews, right, not Sephardim.
LEVIN: That's correct. Jews of European origin not along the Mediterranean basin - Central, Eastern, Western Europe.
SIMON: And is it in the Torah or just, to quote the song, a tradition?
LEVIN: (Laughter) It is a tradition. In the legal structure, it is what is called Minhag, or custom, as opposed to law. And the law is the absolute prohibition against the five grains of wheat, barley, oats, rice - rye and spelt.
SIMON: What made the rabbinate decide it was time for a change?
LEVIN: There are a lot of layers to this conversation. The custom has actually been rather controversial right from the first written sources that we have about the custom in the 13th century simply because the custom prohibits foods that are, according to Torah law, which is like the Jewish Constitution, permitted to be eaten. So this was a geographically limited custom.
So there has been discussion about it all along. The American Jewish community began actually as a Sephardic Jewish community in the 17th-18th century. But by the 19th century and the 20th century with huge waves of immigration from Europe, the American Jewish community became a heavily Ashkenazic Jewish community. And so the custom in general was to preserve this Ashkenazic custom.
We've seen in the last 15-20 years that a lot of Jews from Israel of Sephardic background, the part of the Jewish world that has eaten rice and beans and corn and lentils all along, have come to settle in the states. And so the question is coming up whether it's still appropriate to maintain these separate customs. I've always had at least one or two couples that are (laughter) we call them Ashkaphardes (ph), meaning that one person is from an Ashkenazic background and one person is from a Sephardic background. And then they're sitting at the Seder table looking at each other like, well, are we eating the rice or aren't we eating the rice?
SIMON: Yeah, Rabbi Levin, any concern that this is kind of a dietetically slippery slope? First, rice and beans, and next thing you know, they're serving bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwiches on the Passover table.
LEVIN: (Laughter) Yeah, no.
LEVIN: Everything that we're talking about in terms of this teshuvah, this Jewish legal opinion, is completely within the bounds of what is kosher.
SIMON: Rabbi Amy Levin of Rodeph Sholom in Bridgeport, Conn., Pesach tov to you.
LEVIN: To you too, as well. Thank you so much.
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