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The Inca Kosher News

18 April 2011

Oy vey…

Quinoa (pronounced ki-NO-uh or KEEN-wah) is a grainlike South American crop newly popular among health-conscious North Americans. In the last decade, observant Jews have welcomed it with something like the thrill of seeing a new face at the Passover table after several thousand years of conversation with matzo and potatoes.

There are two camps on quinoa: rabbis who say it is fine, and those who regard it as suspect. But both agree that its suitability for Passover depends on how the crop is harvested and shipped.

A definitive answer is not likely to be reached until a rabbi can be dispatched to a remote mountain region of Bolivia to inspect certain quinoa operations, said Rabbi Sholem Fishbane, director of the kosher supervision service of the Chicago Rabbinical Council. The council is one of several kashrut certification groups involved in the quinoa debate, which was brewing for years before it broke into the open in February with conflicting opinions issued by various rabbinical experts, he said.

“We’d like to get someone up there to inspect the operations, but it’s a four-day trek into the wilderness,” Rabbi Fishbane said. “Until we can get someone there, we’re going to have to make the best decisions we can with the information we have.”

Quinoa was unknown in the Middle East at the time of the Bible’s account of the Jews’ escape from Egypt, when their hurried flight left them no time to wait for their bread to rise. And since it was not part of their diet, it is not on the list of leavened grains forbidden to be eaten during Passover… At the time, the crop was grown mainly in Bolivia and was just beginning to gain popularity in the United States.

“They may be using the same equipment or bags to harvest a field of quinoa, and a field of something else,” he said. “Things easily get mixed up.”

Things certainly do. In 1603 a Portuguese trading ship was seized by a captain of a ship belonging to a subsidiary of the Dutch East India Company. The Portuguese owners of the cargo sued the Dutch for damages, a sort of new concept at the time. The Dutch East Indies company, naturally, fought the suit on behalf of their shareholders, but Mennonite shareholders in the subsidiary company sought to file what amounted to a friend of the court brief to stop the East Indies Company from fighting the Portuguese claim. It seems Mennonites had a religious objection to piracy and figured the East Indies Company should just pay up.

The Dutch East Indies Company not only was one of the first modern corporations, it was one of the first to launch a massive legal spin campaign. They hired the best lawyer in Holland, Hugo Grotius to write a moral defense of their actions. Hugo’s treatise, De Indis sort of went above and beyond the case in point (which was moot anyway, the court ruling in favor of the Dutch East Indies Company before he had a chance to finish the thing).


Maybe he was padding his billable hours when working for the Dutch East Indies Company, but if he was going to mount a reasonable legal defense against the Mennonite’s claims of moral turpitude (back in those innocent days when people had the quaint belief that corporations had to act morally) against the Dutch East Indies Company, Hugo was going to go full-bore, all guns blazing (to coin a somewhat inappropriate metaphor), and set his chart for unknown territory, sailing far, far afield in his research for De Indis.  Including consultations with anyone with any knowledge about the Americas, including a rabbi who’d somehow gotten to Peru and dropped on Hugo the interesting tidbit that the Incas were circumcised.

De Indis became the basis for Grotius’ mostly posthumously published works on the nature of war, international maritime law and rights of nations which form the basis of modern international legal conventions.  And Hugo Grotius’ conviction that the Incas were the lost tribe of Israel.

Circumcised… AND persecuted by the Spaniards… and…

So… is this a question?

3 Comments leave one →
  1. otto permalink
    18 April 2011 6:49 am

    for the record:

    “keen wah” is the way those that have grown it for milennia pronounce it.

    My wife makes a totally rocking quinua soup.

  2. 18 April 2011 10:45 am

    Shalom carnal. Orale 🙂

  3. kwallek permalink
    18 April 2011 5:24 pm

    A nice post. If the good rabbi needs someone to help him carry his bags on the trip into the back country, I’m game. Sounds like a great adventure.

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