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Letter to a Rabbi: The Vilna Gaon Prohibited Qitniyoth on Passover

June 29, 2015

Sir, Shalom.

I enjoyed your recent video explaining why permitting the consumption of qitniyoth on Passover is consistent with the methodology of the Vilna Gaon. Even if we did not know that the Gaon explicitly stated that he desired to leave Lithuania so that he could be free of the “Poilisher minhagim,” it is clear from the vast majority of his writing that he felt no assumed loyalty to practices as they were just because they were. However, with regards to the question of qitiniyoth specifically, I believe that the Vilna Gaon himself actually felt that there was what to prohibit on Passover.
Normally, we find written testimony as to which practices the Vilna Goan rejected. You can probably name more examples than I can, but all it takes is opening up a copy of the Maaseh Rav to find a few. There, we see that he did not perform the Tahslich ritual on Rosh Hashana, nor did he recite the Avinu Malkeinu prayer that day, both in contradiction to the typical Ashkenazi practice. When he rejected something, he let us know about it. Conversely, when he approved of a position, he brought sources for it in practice from the Talmud and rishonim. In the Beiur Hagra to Orah Hayim 453, we find that he brings a number of sources and arguments for the Rama’s assertion that the Polish practice was to avoid eating tavshilin of qitniyoth on Passover. This, as we have seen in other examples, is a strong indication of the Gaon’s approval of the practice. This is confirmed in Maaseh Rav 184, where it mentions that in the Gaon’s opinion, even cannabis oil is included in the prohibition, despite the fact that it is merely the extraction of something usually not considered qitniyoth. I fear that your video, therefore, may mislead others into thinking that the Vilna Gaon also explicitly permitted qitniyoth, when it should emphasize that although the Gaon himself prohibited them, there is room within his system to eventually permit them.
That said, we could still entertain the argument that perhaps, in 21st-century Israel, the Vilna Gaon would see things differently from the way he did in 18th-century Lita, but we can not be sure.
(The recipient of the letter was receptive to my argument at the time, and said he would consider my sources.)
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From → halacha

4 Comments
  1. Menachem permalink

    Just a thought. The difference could be as follows.
    It could be that not doing the Tahslich ritual on Rosh Hashana or not reciting of the Avinu Malkeinu prayer that day is not a matter of causing controversy within the community. Nobody knows if you went to the river or not but to davka eat kitniyot when everyone else is refraining is causing controversy and is to be avoided in communities that have those customs. This could explain the authors above questions.

    • The problem is that the Gaon did do things that were noticeably different, like not wearing tefillin on Hol Hamoed…

      • Menachem permalink

        Did the Vilna Gaon go to the local synagogue and not wear tefillin while everyone else did?

  2. He had his own shtieble (the kloiz) where he did things his way. And people knew he was doing different. That’s how he got his reputation.

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