Why is corn not kosher for Passover?

Corn is not considered kosher for Passover because it falls into the category of kitniyot, which are legumes that Ashkenazi Jews traditionally do not eat during the Passover holiday. The avoidance of kitniyot during Passover originated as a custom in Medieval times and has been followed by many Ashkenazi Jews since then, though not all agree with this tradition. The reasoning behind abstaining from kitniyot is that they could potentially be confused with or contaminated by grains that are strictly forbidden during Passover, such as wheat, barley, rye, oats, and spelt.

What are kitniyot?

Kitniyot is a category of foods that are prohibited by Ashkenazi Jewish custom during Passover. The word “kitniyot” comes from the Hebrew word “kutniyah” meaning legume. Kitniyot includes grains and seeds such as rice, corn, millet, buckwheat, sesame seeds, peas, lentils and beans. These foods are not technically chametz, which is leavened bread and grains forbidden during Passover. However, kitniyot became customarily avoided because of their similarity in appearance to true chametz, as well as concerns that kitniyot could have been mixed with or contaminated by chametz grains.

Why are kitniyot avoided during Passover?

Here are some of the reasons behind the Ashkenazi custom of avoiding kitniyot during Passover:

  • Similarity in appearance – Kitniyot resembles prohibited grains, making it easier to confuse the two.
  • Possibility of mixing – Kitniyot may have been mixed or processed with chametz grains.
  • Difficulty checking – It is hard to check kitniyot thoroughly to confirm no chametz contamination.
  • Tradition – Avoiding kitniyot has been the tradition for centuries.

By avoiding kitniyot, Ashkenazi Jews are playing it safe and avoiding any chance of accidentally consuming forbidden grains during the Passover holiday.

History of prohibiting kitniyot on Passover

The origins of the kitniyot prohibition during Passover come from 13th century France and Germany. Jewish sages at the time felt that certain kitniyot crops were too similar to the five true forbidden grains – wheat, barley, rye, oats and spelt. While not true chametz, kitniyot was customarily prohibited due to concerns about confusion between the crops. The custom spread through Europe and was adopted by nearly all Ashkenazi Jewish communities by the 16th century.

The list of prohibited kitniyot has evolved over time. Corn and rice were originally permitted, until Jewish authorities in 15th-16th century Europe determined them to be too similar to wheat and added them to the forbidden kitniyot list. Potatoes were initially banned as kitniyot when introduced from the New World, but later ruled permissible. The trajectories of these rulings shows how kitniyot avoidance has historically been focused on preventing confusion and contamination with true prohibited grains.

Key developments in kitniyot prohibitions:

Year Development
13th century Kitniyot prohibition originates in France and Germany
1500s Corn and rice declared kitniyot and forbidden
1500s Potatoes initially banned as kitniyot, later permitted
20th century Some Jewish authorities re-examined kitniyot rulings

Why is corn considered kitniyot?

Corn became specifically prohibited as kitniyot during the 16th century. This was about a century after corn was first introduced to Europe following Christopher Columbus’s voyages to the Americas. At the time, Jewish authorities determined that corn too closely resembled wheat grains and declared it forbidden as kitniyot out of concern it could be confused or contaminated with prohibited chametz grains.

There are several physical similarities between corn and grains that led rabbis to prohibit corn as kitniyot:

  • Corn kernels resemble wheat kernels in shape and size
  • Both corn and grain can be ground into flour
  • Corn and grain flours can be used similarly in cooking and baking
  • Fields of corn and grain can look similar at a distance

Due to these similarities, rabbis felt that permitting corn would raise too much risk of it being confused with or contaminated by chametz grains, so declared it forbidden as kitniyot.

Differences between corn and grains

While corn and grains share some physical similarities, there are some important differences that set them apart botanically:

Corn Grains (wheat, barley, etc)
Classified as a vegetable (maize) Classified as a true cereal grain
Member of grass family Poaceae Member of grass family Poaceae
6 chromosome sets 2 sets of 7 chromosomes (diploid)

However, the subtle biological differences between corn and grains were not enough to exempt corn from the kitniyot prohibition. The similarities were still too strong for rabbis to risk allowing confusion between corn and chametz grains.

Is the kitniyot prohibition universally accepted?

The avoidance of kitniyot during Passover is a long-standing tradition in Ashkenazi Jewish communities. However, not all Jewish groups adhere to the kitniyot prohibition. Here are some perspectives on kitniyot from different Jewish sects:

  • Ashkenazi Orthodox Jews – Typically avoid kitniyot and consider corn forbidden during Passover.
  • Sephardic Jews – Never adopted the kitniyot prohibition and consider corn acceptable during Passover.
  • Reform/Liberal Jews – Tend to accept kitniyot, including corn, deeming it a custom rather than law.
  • Conservative Jews – Vary in acceptance of kitniyot prohibition, some reject and others still avoid.

So while the kitniyot prohibition is widely observed among Ashkenazi Jews, it remains a point of debate and divergence among other branches of Judaism. The Reform and Reconstructionist movements in particular have ruled the avoidance of kitniyot to be optional rather than obligatory.

Recent re-examinations of kitniyot

In the 20th century, some Jewish leaders re-examined the kitniyot prohibition and whether it remains sensible and necessary today. This led to certain leniencies being introduced:

  • In 1915, Israel Meir Kagan permitted peanuts due to uncertainty over whether they qualify as kitniyot.
  • In the 1950s, some American Conservative rabbis allowed kitniyot for elderly and infirm congregants.
  • In the 1970s, the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards voted to formally allow kitniyot for American Conservative Jews.

However, Orthodox Judaism maintains the traditional kitniyot prohibition, including forbidding corn on Passover.

What do proponents argue regarding kitniyot?

Those arguing in favor of retaining the kitniyot prohibitions during Passover, including forbidding corn, point to the following key rationales:

  • Preserving tradition – Keeping kitniyot restrictions honors the Passover customs practiced for centuries by their Ashkenazi ancestors.
  • Preventing error – Allows little chance of accidentally consuming forbidden grains.
  • Avoiding loopholes – Feels that allowing kitniyot is an effort to circumvent Passover dietary laws.
  • Not mandatory – Eating kitniyot on Passover is optional so not an unreasonable imposition.

Proponents view retaining the kitniyot prohibition as both adhering to tradition and pragmatically minimizing risk of consuming chametz on Passover in accordance with Jewish law.

Perspectives of kitniyot supporters

Group Perspective
Orthodox Jews Strongly support kitniyot prohibition as central Passover tradition.
Conservative Traditionalists Uphold custom of avoiding kitniyot, but accept those who don’t.
Reform Jews Consider kitniyot rules antiquated and reject prohibition.

Views on kitniyot range from fully upholding the prohibition to complete rejection. But supporters believe avoiding kitniyot shows respect for Passover traditions.

What are the arguments against kitniyot?

Those who argue against prohibiting kitniyot like corn during Passover dispute whether this custom remains relevant and necessary today. Reasons cited include:

  • No basis in Torah – Jewish scripture only prohibits chametz grains, not kitniyot.
  • Custom not law – Kitniyot avoidance is only Ashkenazi custom, not actual Jewish law.
  • Timeline inconsistencies – Dates when kitniyot crops were prohibited don’t line up with when they arrived in Europe.
  • Lower risk of confusion – Modern food processing reduces risk of kitniyot mixing with chametz grains.
  • Imposes undue hardship – Forcing avoidance of additional foods poses difficulties today.

Critics feel that the original kitniyot justifications may have made sense centuries ago, but no longer apply to the realities of modern food production and preparation.

Reasons cited by opponents of kitniyot prohibition

Reason Explanation
Not Biblically mandated Only chametz grains prohibited in Torah, kitniyot is custom
Lower risk today Modern processing reduces mixing and spoilage risks
Inconsistent timelines Prohibition timelines don’t match crop arrival dates
Unneeded stringency Prevents joy and ease of observance

They argue loosening kitniyot rules would make Passover observance more manageable while still adhering to Torah laws.

Is corn kosher the rest of the year?

Yes, corn is considered kosher during the rest of the year and only prohibited by some Jewish traditions during Passover. Here are some key facts about the kosher status of corn in general:

  • Corn has no biblical or Talmudic prohibition and did not exist in ancient Israel.
  • No part of the corn plant is inherently non-kosher.
  • Fresh, raw corn kernels are kosher and pareve.
  • Processed corn products like cornmeal are kosher if no non-kosher ingredients added.
  • Orthodox Union certifies corn ingredients like corn syrup and starch as kosher.

As long as processed corn products are prepared according to kosher standards and certified, they remain kosher the entire year except for Passover. The temporary kitniyot prohibition only applies to the narrow circumstances of the Passover holiday.

Kosher symbols applied to corn products

Symbol Meaning
Certified kosher by Orthodox Union
Certified kosher by Organized Kashruth
Generically certified kosher

When these symbols appear on corn products, it indicates kosher status even during the year. Only exception is Passover due to kitniyot prohibition.


The avoidance of corn during Passover stems from the tradition of prohibiting kitniyot, a category of legumes and grains that Ashkenazi Jewish authorities decreed should not be eaten on Passover due to similarities with forbidden grains. Though not supported by biblical law, this custom originated centuries ago and remains observed by Orthodox and some Conservative Jews today. However, the tradition is not universally accepted, with Reform and Sephardic Jews rejecting the prohibition against kitniyot like corn. The kitniyot prohibition clearly highlights the differences between Jewish customs versus actual dietary laws prescribed in the Torah. Beyond Passover, however, corn remains kosher and permissible for consumption all year round.

Leave a Comment