The Sages of Ashkenaz and Kitniyot
Whether Ashkenazim should continue to observe the prohibition of eating kitniyot on Passover has been discussed ad nauseam for quite some time. IMHO, do whatever you want and get over it. Personally, I eat any kitniyot which were not known in Ashkenaz during the 12-13th centuries, e.g. corn, when this custom took root and derivatives of any kitniyot. During the past year the opinion of Rabbi David Bar-Hayim has been getting a lot of coverage in the print and electronic media. (see here, here, and here) There are a number of small things in his words which I will not dwell on, but there is one major claim which we now know is simply incorrect. He claims that
The common denominator of all the Halakhic codifiers who mention this minhagh is easy to spot: they all resided in France.
What of Germany (Ashkenaz)? The medieval authorities there were either silent or openly opposed to the custom, exemplified by this statement of R. Ya’aqov, son of the Rosh, in his famous work the Tur: “This is an extreme stringency and it is not the custom”.
This is incorrect for two reasons. The first is that the custom was also known in Provence which is NOT the same geographic, cultural, nor halakhic area as Northern France. They must be treated as two distinct areas. The second reason is that we know that the prohibition of not eating kitniyot was already an established custom in Germany in the early 13th century. Dr. Simha Emmanuel has published from a ms. the sermon on Passover of Rabbi Eliezer of Worms (1176-1238). In his sermon Rabbi Eliezer states that “ומה שאין אוכלין פולין ועדשים, מפני שיש בהן חיטין” (“And that which they don’t eat beans and lentils is because they have in them wheat.”) See here. Not only does he state as a given the existence of this custom, but he also gives a different reason and this being that mixed in with “beans and lentils” is wheat. This reason for the prohibition reflects the reality of the most important new agricultural practice of this time period, the three-field rotation system. See the following quote from here.
Still another component of the Agricultural Revolution of the Middle Ages was the development of the three-field rotation system. The classic two-field farming system of the Mediterranean regions of antiquity typically involved farming one field while leaving another fallow. In the new three-field pattern that arose on the European plain, arable land was divided into three fields with plantings rotated over a three-year cycle: two seasonal plantings employed two fields, a winter wheat crop and a spring crop of oats, peas, beans, barley, and lentils, with the third field left fallow.
As I said before, do whatever you want regarding the customary prohibition of eating kitniyot during Passover, but the claim that it has no basis in reality is now known to most likely be untrue.