In honor of the last days of Pesach we present this weeks letter in which the Rebbe discusses the questions of the custom of eating or not eating kitniyos/legumes on Pesach – which custom one should follow and why. The letter, written originally in English, is from the archives of the Rebbe’s trusted secretary Rabbi Nissan Mindel.
By the Grace of G-d
4th of Iyar, 5746
Forest Hills, N.Y. 11375
Greeting and Blessing:
This is to acknowledge receipt of your letter. In it you write about a certain publication, with particular reference to a paragraph relating to the use of kitniyos on Pesach, which is not permissible to Ashkenazim , but is permissible to Sephardim, concluding with the statement that, “One who does not know his background, takes on the Ashkenazic custom.” You have been told that the said statement is incorrect and that one should adhere to the community one wishes to follow.
Let me first of all observe that the said book is not intended as a Shulchan Aruch, but was talking in general terms. The rule of the Shulchan Aruch is that if one is in doubt as to which custom to follow, he should follow the custom followed by the majority of Jews living in that community. Thus, in a country where the majority are Ashkenazim, the custom to be followed should be the Ashkenazic custom and where the majority are Sephardim, the Sephardic custom should be followed.
A further important consideration is that if an Ashkenazi would eat kitniyos on Pesach, he would eat something that is forbidden to him, whereas if a Sephardi would not eat kitniyos it would only be an inconvenience. This explains the rule why in the case of doubt, the Ashkenazi custom should be followed.
Be it as it may, the important thing is that when there is a shaala, one has to ask a Rabbinic authority and not follow a statement in a book which is not the Shulchan Aruch. I would like to add also that my predecessor, my father-in-law, the Rebbe of saintly memory, was particularly careful to instruct his emissaries working in North Africa and other Sephardic communities and establishing their educational institutions, etc., not to infringe in any way on the local customs, including also the nusach of prayer and the like, emphasizing that their purpose was to promote the study of Torah and the practice of mitzvos and not in any way to change time-honored customs. The results of this policy are seen in the fact that immigrants into the Holy Land from Morocco and other Sephardic communities, who had been educated in Lubavitch educational institutions in their communities since some forty years ago, still preserve their Sephardic customs.
Inasmuch as everything is by hashgocho protis and our correspondence is taking place during the days of Sefira, this provides a special opportunity of complying with the rule of our Sages, “Encourage the energetic.” I trust that you are using these days of preparation for Kabolas HaTorah to encourage yourself and others to go form strength to strength in all matters of Torah and mitzvos in the everyday life and conduct, so as to receive the Torah on the Festival of Mattan Torah with true joy and inspiration.