Caring for Infants and the Infirm

Rabbi Eli Gersten

Proper Passover observance requires not only detailed knowledge of halachot, but also an appreciation and awareness of the many traditions (minhagim) adhered to during the holiday dictating what one may and may not eat.

While it is important that everyone follow family minhagim, it is also necessary to understand specific dispensations when dealing with the infirm, elderly or small children. The Rabbis throughout the generations have recognized that caring for the infirm, elderly and small children over Passover entails extra difficulties and have allowed flexibility concerning minhagim in cases of great need.

There are varied minhagim concerning what one is permitted and not permitted to consume including kitniyot (corn, rice, peas, lentils, and beans), egg matzah (matzah ashirah), machine matzah, exclusively shmurah matzah, food prepared out of one’s own family kitchen, dried fruits, and the list goes on.

A prominent minhag upheld by Ashkenazic Jewry entails refraining from eating kitniyot on Passover. However, there are circumstances when kitniyot consumption is permissible. First a review of the two basic reasons for the restriction:

> Since kitniyot bears many similarities to the five grains, one may come to mistakenly eat chametz.

> Kitniyot are often grown or stored with kernels of the five grains; if chametz kernels are mixed with the kitniyot, it will be difficult to separate them out.

Kitniyot foods are permitted to someone who is ill or a child who requires them, and is not yet cognizant of Passover concepts. Even a healthy adult may eat kitniyot on Passover if he would otherwise have nothing else to eat. In these cases, one should be careful to ensure that the kitniyot foods do not contain chametz, chametz-processing aids or additives, were not processed on chametz equipment and are stored apart from other Passover foods, as well as served on separate kitchen utensils.

The infirm, elderly or children who cannot follow the stringencies (chumrot) of a particular minhag may be lenient. If the ailment is such that the person is unlikely to be able to follow a minhag, even in future years, then a Rabbi should be consulted; at times hatarat nedarim (ritual annulment of a vow) is required.