Cheerios Vindicate Ashkenazim!

The custom of avoiding kitniyos (legumes – and others!) on Pesach survived a rocky start, and the smirks of our Sephardic brothers and sisters. Survive it did, and never have so many been so meticulous in avoiding as many products suspect of bearing the taint of kitniyos-inclusion.

Support for the practice (or at least one of the reasons given for the evolution of the practice) comes from an unexpected source. Cheerios was always an oat cereal, and oats have long been identified with שבולת שועל[1], one of the five grains that can become chamtez. Oats are gluten free – which is important to many people, especially those allergic to the substance that glues (hence the word gluten) particles together to form a cohesive dough. Until recently, however, Cheerios did not boast of being gluten-free. Here is how the folks at General Mills explain why they have only recently laid claim to that distinction. I quote:

Many farmers who grow oats rotate their crops.

That means they also grow grains that have gluten (like wheat, barley, and rye).

These grains get mixed in with the oats during harvesting and transport.

To make Cheerios gluten‑free, we have to separate them from the oats.

Even today, apparently, grains get mixed with other grains, both in their growing (in the case of legumes, not through rotation, but as crops grown between the rows of grain) and in their transportation. All the more so when grains (and legumes) sold in quantity were brought home in large sacks, emptied, and reused. (One of my guests reported that a gourmand friend had mentioned recently having to pick out grains from his store of lentils!)
Of course, we don’t need the knowing smile from the Cheerios people. We understand why Klal Yisrael – both Sephardim and Ashkenazim – have frequently gone to great lengths to distance themselves from chametz. The sheer seriousness of the offense (i.e. the penalty of kares/excision for its consumption), coupled with awareness that chametz symbolizes the yetzer hora/ Evil Inclination itself, provided ample motivation for people to anathematize anything resembling chametz, going far beyond the requirements of raw halacha in other areas.
Hat-tip (Borsalino, only) to Akiva Adlerstein for providing the link

[Note: It has been brought to my attention that Rabbi Elli Fischer did a far more extensive treatment of the same Cheerios announcement several days ago in Mosaic Magazine. It contains fascinating material about differences between prevailing forms of agriculture in Ashkenazic and Sephardic countries in the time of the rishonim.]

[1] At least le-chumrah. This is not the place to consider the work of Prof. Felix and others before and after who cast doubt on the designation.

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19 Responses

  1. meir rabi says:

    V hard to accept, thousands of Jews have been checking their barley for Shabbos Cholent and rice for bugs etc – not one report of discovering wheat kernels.

    Thousands of Kitniyos eaters have been checking their K prior to Pesach and not one report of discovering wheat kernels.

    [YA – Not being privy to the data of the Central Wheat Kernel Reporting Agency, I couldn’t be quite so certain about the dearth of reports. But accepting your point, I’m afraid you’ve missed mine. Everyone agrees that the chances of contamination are minimal – so low that they do not even rise to the bar of a miyut ha-matzui that would require some bedikah mi-derabbanan. The Cheerios story only supports the idea that the chumrah of banning kitniyos was not a ridiculous, senseless stringency. There were grounds for it. Once accepted, it continues to have halachic validity until such time as it would lapse into near-universal neglect.]

    • yehudis golshevsky says:

      Sorry, but I live in Israel and have found admixtures of single grains within packaged kitniyos during the year any number of times.


    • Sarah Elias says:

      I live in western Europe and regularly find barley and wheat kernels in my rice.  In fact, I would say that it happens more often than not that I find grain mixed into the brown rice I buy.

  2. Shades of Gray says:

    Related to this post, there is an article last week in Mosaic Magazine by R. Elli Fischer, “Why Are These Cheerios Different from All Other Cheerios?”.  Also,  the Conservative Movement’s  “Teshuvah Permitting Ashkenazim to Eat Kitniyot on Pesah” of this November was recently  criticized by  Conservative Rabbi Elliot Cosgrove in a speech to his congregation.



  3. Menachem Lipkin says:

    Your Cheerios argument could actually make the opposite point and support the “Kitniyot liberators”. Generally there’s little argument over why there was a need for the restriction when it started. They claim it’s no longer needed. The fact that a company the size of General Mills is able to make one of the most popular cereals in the world Gluten-free shows that it can be done on such a scale and certainly on the smaller scale of Kashrut supervision as is quite commonly done in Israel.

    FWIW, as someone living in Israel where there is a lot of pressure to do away with this custom, I think it’s important to maintain it for as long as we can. The diverse customs we bring to this Jewish melting pot are a living testament to our survival for the past 2000 years. As, long as it’s not something horribly detrimental to society, there’s a value in that. Should this little project of ours survive long term I’m sure there’ll be much hybridization of all of our customs. (It’s already happening organically with many things including Kitniyot.) Until such time I can do without rice and beans for a few days to maintain the tapestry.

  4. Chava says:

    Someone in a Facebook group I’m in posted a photo this week of the wheat kernels he found while checking his lentils this week. He is in Israel. Apparently it can still happen.

  5. mycroft says:

    “living in Israel where there is a lot of pressure to do away with this custom, I think it’s important to maintain it for as long as we can. The diverse customs we bring to this Jewish melting pot are a living testament to our survival for the past 2000 years. As, long as it’s not something horribly detrimental to society, there’s a value in that”

    Agree with your thoughts-but sadly customs” minhaggim” halachik practices of centuries if not a thousand years or more have become almost extinct have in the past half century or so.

    How many schuls still do not stop between mizmor shir and hashem malach after lechah dodi-clear Ashkenazic custom half a century ago, percentage of Jews putting on tfillin chol hamoed in America has plummeted.

    [YA It is important to distinguish between different kinds of practices that we conveniently assemble together under the rubric of minhag/ custom. The strictest of them is a minhag of issur, which, when practiced long enough, becomes halacha. That includes kitniyos, and has the sharpest halachic teeth. People do not have the right to unilaterally abrogate it. It is not on the same level as how much pepper you do or do not put into your latkes on Chanukah, or what nusach you use to greet people after maariv on Rosh Hashanah, or whether or not you sing Shalom Aleichem when Yom Tov falls on Shabbos. All those can loosely be called “minhag” but carry less weight than a minhag of issur or manner of performance.

    The % of tefillin wearers on Chol ha-Moed has declined because the % of chassidim relative to the rest of the community has risen.]

    • lacosta says:

      rya—  could it just be that even nusach ashkenaz people [non-MO] are taught in school via nusach sfard siddurim. maybe it carries over into the shuls whereby ‘lo titgodedu’ in practice means bnai ashkenaz keep tefillin off rather than the other way around… [like the joke of ashkenazim going to Crown Hts on chol hamoed to encourage people to put on tefillin….]      i wonder if even YI shuls now refrain from tefillin, at least the more yeshivish/rw leaning ]

      [YA – My own experience, colored perhaps by more years than not on the hotel route, is that it is adherence to lo sisgodedu which has waned, not the wearing of tefilin which is alive and well. (I should more accurately say that it seems that a growing number of rabbonim have been inclined to not view the mixing of tefilin- and non-tefilin-wearering in the same minyan as a violation of lo sisgodedu.)]

    • mycroft says:

      Rabbi Adlerstein:

      I suspect that % of tefillin wearers decreasing is at  least partially based on Israeli influence-between those who are sefardim, those who follow the GRA, those who are influenced by the Zohar -there are very few in Israel who follow standard Ashkenazic practice. People who spend time in Israel bring back such minhaggim believing they are superior.

      Of course, the whole development of Chassidism versus classic Yahadus is one worthy of serious study.

      • Wolfman says:

        Many former yeshiva students descend from families of Hungarian or Galician origin where tefilin was not worn. The yeshivos influenced their adherence to Nusach Ashkenaz while their family custom was not to don tefilin. This may also explain the Ashkenaz davener who doesn’t wear tefilin.

  6. dave says:

    One more Cheerios topic relating to Pesach. One who learns the gemara Pesachim knows that one reason we search for chametz before Pesach is “shema yimtza gluska yafeh”, which was translated when I went to Yeshiva as “perhaps you will find a nice piece of cake”. (possible Rabbi Art Scroll might have a different translation). I always found it unlikely that one would actually find a nice piece of cake under the furniture.

    Then I became a father. And no, I did not find a nice piece of cake or even a piece of nice cake. But a Cheerio or two is highly likely to be found in or under furniture. And the five second rule apparently does not apply to fallen Cheerios. I developed a whole new appreciation for what chazal might have meant by “gluska yafeh” – some piece of chametz that we may just be used to popping in our mouths.

    Since Chametz has no minimum shiur, this made great sense to me.

    Chag Kasher v’Sameach

  7. Elitzur says:

    Of course the wheat, barley, rye would be battel before Pesach so there is no halakhic problem.

    [YA No way. If visible, they were never batel. If not, chametz is assur be-mashehu. Even if batel before Pesach, except in liquids, it is chozer ve-ne’ur on Pesach and becomes assur again. (OK, it is not quite as black and white as this; there is lots of Torah about grain mixtures attached to Siman תנג). But it certainly cannot be blanketly claimed that there is no problem.)]

    • lacosta says:

      recall a hi school rebbe recommending all non gebroks eaters to make knaidlach before pesach and keep in the soup…. don’t think he got any buy-in except on 8th day in chu’l….

      [YA – All guests at my sedorim have an opportunity to join in the dip-the-knaidel-in-the-hot-soup ceremony that we religiously celebrate without fail…]

      • mycroft says:

        I once heard a woman from a Misnagish family who married a Chassid tell her husband “you don’t know what good is- having gebroks in the seder night”

    • Sammy says:

      Sefardim pasken that there is no issue of chozer veneur

  8. Michael Mirsky says:

    As amusing aside about Cheerios and Pesach.

    One year, about 20 years ago in Toronto, General Mills decided to do a promotion for a new kind of Cheerios. They delivered a small sample box of Cheerios to everyone’s mailbox. Only one problem, it arrived on Chol Hamoed Pesach!

    Many people said “So what, it’s not mine, I didn’t ask for it!” and were just going to leave it there until after Pesach. But the psak was that your mailbox (which in Toronto is attached to the house) has acquired it for you (kone). Immediate biur was necessary. So there were some nice bonfires in our neighbourhood!


    Michael Mirsky

  9. mb says:

    I was really surprised this Pesach by how many Sephardim, not just Moroccans, that do have at least some Kitnyot restrictions, including a Yemenite friend that has a custom to not eat ANY kitnyot at all. Worse, he has 3 matzot on his seder plate! Sacrilege.


  10. Charlie Hall says:

    I do not believe that the possibility of contamination with chametz is a good reason for avoiding kitniyot today. Many (most) Sefardim eat some forms of kitniyot, corn, or rice, and chas v’shalom we imply that they are not fully observant of Pesach. (Over Pesach I actually had occasion to ask a frum agronomist if he was aware of any rice in America that was grown in dry fields, which would be susceptible to contamination from wheat; he was not aware of any and he did not think that any was produced commercially in the US.  The usual way of growing rice commercially in and out of the US is in flooded rice paddies; the Five Grains cannot grow there.)


    We Ashkenazim should avoid kitniyot because it is an 800 year old minhag and we should not dispense with communal minhagim lightly.


    I actually touched on this erev Pesach. I had the merit of exempting my fellow firstborn Jews from fasting by making a siyum on Yerushalmi Shevi’it, which I had been learning for the past year. The gemara there discusses the merit of those who returned from galut bayit rishon and began observing shemittah again. It discusses whether it was at that time a biblical obligation or not, but concludes in any case that the Olei Bavel are deserving of huge praise. For if it were not an obligation they get more merit than if it were obligatory, but were it an obligation they were worthy of being praised as if they had taken it on voluntarily. It is saying that there is more merit in something taken on voluntarily than something than is commanded, which directly contradicts what we had learned in Bavli Kiddushin about two weeks earlier!

    I suggested a resolution: The Bavli Kiddushin is discussing an individual mitzvah (specifically, kvod av v’eim). The Yerushalmi is discussing something that communities take on as a whole. Minhagim that entire communities take on might well be more meritorious than even obligations, while individual chumrot  not shared by the community may be less important. Ashkenazi communities not eating kitniyot is a classic example of a community taking on something voluntarily. If my resolution is valid it would strengthen the argument for keeping the no kitniyot minhag even were it possible to absolutely guarantee no chametz.  (It doesn’t argue for expanding the minhag further. But it might apply to gebrockts for those who have that minhag.)


    I enjoyed a homemade masoor dal (red lentil) and basmati rice lunch this past Sunday. After Pesach.


  11. Bob Miller says:

    I’d expect nothing less from “hole-y” Cheerios.

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