In November 2015 when the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards of the Rabbinical Assembly (RA) issued their teshuvah permitting rice and other legumes for Ashkenazi Jews during Passover, I thought it was interesting, but did not think it had any bearing our movement.
Imagine my surprise, then, when colleague after colleague posted with glee that we could now eat rice.
This reaction bothered me for two reasons.
First, we Reform Jews have never been bound by the halakhic policy of the Conservative Movement. We have not even been guided by it. If our Responsa Committee cites the RA when publishing a responsa, it is rare indeed.
Why, then, was this particular ruling quoted time and again by our colleagues? Is it because those of us who eat rice at Passover felt validated by the Conservative ruling? If this is true, it is problematic. We do not need validation. Our practice and our traditions need no approval from another movement. We preach all the time that other movements are not inherently more correct because they are more fundamentally bound to halakha. If this were true, it would undermine much of what we currently do and much of what we are working toward.
The second reason bothers me even more than the first. As far as I am concerned, rice is still forbidden for Reform Ashkenazi Jews. To defer to the Conservative movement in this instance is to forget one of the most fundamental principles of Reform Judaism.
We are the movement that reinterpreted tikkun olam and use it as our battle cry. We are the movement dedicated to shouting against injustice, caring for those less fortunate, healing the broken among us.
In this context, Passover is more than just remembering the Exodus from Egypt. It is remembering our own privilege, remembering there are those who are always hungry, who do not know when their fast will end.
Without legumes, keeping kosher for Passover gets old very quickly. By the fourth or fifth day, we are longing for the holiday to end. It is on these days, and each subsequent day of Passover, that we should be struck with the stunning realization of how fortunate we are. If we have become weary of our food choices, if we are starting to feel hungry for more, just imagine the plight of those whose food choices are even more limited than ours on Passover, those whose hunger will not be relieved at Passover’s end.
If Passover makes us food-fatigued and hungry, even as we have an array of foods we can eat and can afford, and even though we know the holiday will soon end, can we even begin to imagine what it is like to feel hungry with limited food resources and options in a situation without end?
I do not know if I could reach this point of insight if I included legumes in my Passover diet.
We teach our people that in addition to its organic meaning, Passover also stands as a reminder that there are those still pining for the manna I take for granted. There are those left behind who are still standing on the other side of the Jordan. There are those I am commanded to remember by the very Torah I will celebrate receiving.
This Passover, no matter what your dietary practice, let us remember and remind our baalei batim how fortunate we all are, and if any of us have extra, let us inspire ourselves and them to share it.
Rabbi Andrea Berlin is the founder of Berlin Consulting, LLC, which provides transition management and conflict facilitation to organizations in both the for-profit and non-profit sectors. Berlin Consulting, LLC also provides synagogues with general consulting.