The holiday of Passover is one of the most joyous moments of the Jewish year, in which the Jewish people celebrate the story of the redemption of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. The Torah teaches us “the Israelites baked unleavened cakes of the dough that they had taken out of Egypt, for it was not leavened, since they had been driven out of Egypt and could not delay; nor had they prepared any provisions for themselves. (Ex. 12:39)”
Later in the Torah, the Israelites are commanded to, “observe (Passover) the Feast of Unleavened Bread, for on this very day I brought your ranks out of the land of Egypt; you shall observe this day throughout the ages as an institution for all time. (Ex. 12:17)”
Due to this, most folks associate Passover with abstaining from eating our regular leavened bread for ten days, and instead eating unleavened bread (matzah). This is the basis for much of Passover kashrut (ritual eating), yet when one delves more deeply into the traditions, it becomes significantly more complex. The first layer is abstaining from any glutinous grains (wheat, barley, spelt, oats, and rye) other than in matzah form. These grains, and their derivatives, are referred to as chametz, and are the core of prohibited foods on Passover. In the medieval period, though, another layer was added, particularly in the Western and Central European Jewish (Ashkenazi) communities: Kitniyot 1.
Kitniyot are traditionally legumes, seeds, and rice. There are multiple explanations as to why these became prohibited along with the earlier forms of chametz. Some say it is because they would occasionally be stored together with grains, and could mix or be contaminated. Some say that it is because they could be ground into flour that was difficult to distinguish from chametz. Then, as new foods arrived from the Americas to Europe, another layer was added to the tradition. Potatoes and corn became staples in Europe and beyond, and both came under scrutiny as to whether they should be considered kitniyot.
A final layer arose later as food processing became more advanced: Are the derivatives of kitniyot (oil, syrup, etc.) also prohibited? One of the rabbinic luminaries of the early 20th century, Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, allowed oils and syrups. Kook’s ruling was focused on sesame seed oil, and when and how sesame seeds themselves are considered kitniyot, but provides a further basis for understanding the limitations of kitniyot writ large. 2
In 2015, the Rabbinical Assembly of the Conservative Movement published a paper explaining that amongst those in the movement, it was now permitted to eat kitniyot during Passover, in large part due to contemporary processes in industrial food production that requires separation of different types of food 3. Further, even in the dissenting opinion offered by the minority decisors at the Rabbinical Assembly, oils, syrups, and derivatives of kitniyot are permitted. 4
In short, it is my opinion that the use of corn syrup can be considered kosher for Passover. For some Jewish people, the tradition of abstaining from kitniyot brings meaning to their Passover, and helps them to feel a difference in their diet that allows them to connect with their ancestors. This, too, can be a meaningful approach to Passover. For many, Joyva Jell Rings and Marshmallow Twists are the tradition that bring even greater joy to the holiday!
Rabbi Andrue Kahn
1 Shulchan Arukh, Orach Chayim 453