What is Passover?
Passover is the Jewish festival commemorating the exodus from Egypt. It is celebrated on the fourteenth of the Jewish month of Nissan which falls in spring. In Israel Passover is a seven-day holiday of which the first and last days are full festive days and the remaining five are lesser intermediary days. In the diaspora, Passover is an eight-day holiday.
Passover is one of the three foot-festivals. The foot-festivals were times of pilgrimage to the Holy Temple in Jerusalem when it was still standing. People from all over the country of Israel would travel in order to stand before G-d on these festivals.
All three foot-festivals have agricultural and historical significance. In the case of Passover, it signifies the beginning of the harvest season in Israel. However, more attention is paid to the historical event that it commemorates, that being the exodus from Egypt after centuries of slavery.
What is the source for Passover?
The story of Passover can be found in the book of Exodus in chapters one through fifteen.
What are the religious practices and customs of Passover?
- Eating or owning leavened foods on Passover is forbidden. This commemorates the fact that when the Jewish people left Egypt, they were in such a hurry to leave that the bread they had prepared for the journey didn’t have time to rise. The house is cleaned thoroughly in the weeks leading up to Passover.
- Instead of leavened products, unleavened bread called Matzah is eaten during Passover.
- The Seder
On the first night of Passover (or first two nights for Jews in the Diaspora), a special family meal is held called a Seder. The Seder is the fulfillment of the positive commandment to recall and relay the miracle of the Exodus from Egypt.
The table is festively set. Family and friends gather together to celebrate and a special emphasis is put on inviting the needy. Each participant receives a Haggadah and wineglass. The Haggadah is the specially created text used throughout the Seder and each participant reads from his own Haggadah. The head of the household is appointed to lead the Seder, guiding the participants through the Seder ceremony.
There are many symbolic foods used on the Seder night, each portraying a different aspect of the story. These foods are placed on a special Passover Plate in front of the leader of the Seder.
Matzah is placed in a special Matzah cover, with excess Matzah placed on a special Matzah tray.
Four cups of wine are drunk by each participant, representing the four expressions of deliverance in the story of Exodus.
Arousing the interest of children at the Seder is of central importance. A classic example of this is the Afikoman. The Afikoman is a part of Matzah that is traditionally hidden and must be found by the children participants. The child who finds the Afikoman receives a prize.