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Passover - April 15, 2014
Passover (transliterated as Pesach or Pesah) (''Chag HaMatzot'' - Festival of Matzot) is a Jewish holiday which is celebrated in the northern spring. It begins on the 15th day of Nisan (on the Hebrew calendar), which falls between March 15-April 30. Passover commemorates the Exodus and freedom of the Israelites from ancient Egypt. As described in the Book of Exodus, Passover marks the "birth" of the Jewish nation, as the Jews' ancestors were freed from being slaves of Pharaoh and allowed to become servants of God instead.
Together with Sukkot ("Tabernacles") and Shavuot ("Pentecost"), Passover is one of the three pilgrim festivals (''Shalosh Regalim'') during which the entire Jewish populace made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, at the time when the Temple in Jerusalem was standing.
In Israel, Passover is a 7-day holiday, with the first and last days celebrated as a full festival (involving abstention from work, special prayer services and holiday meals). In the Jewish diaspora outside Israel, the holiday is traditionally celebrated for 8 days, with the first two days and last two days celebrated as full festivals. The intervening days are known as Chol HaMoed (festival weekdays).
The primary symbol of Passover is the matzo, a flat, unleavened "bread" which recalls the hurriedly-baked bread that the Israelites ate after their hasty departure from Egypt. According to Halakha, matzo may be made from flour derived from five types of grain: wheat, barley, spelt, oats, rye. The dough for matzo is made when flour is added to water only, which has not been allowed to rise for more than 18–22 minutes prior to baking.
Many Jews observe the positive commandment of eating matzo on the first night of Passover at the Passover Seder, as well as the Torah prohibition against eating or owning Chametz which includes any leavened products — such as bread, cake, cookies, beer, whisky or pasta (or anything whose dough has been mixed with a leavening agent or which has been left to rise more than 18 minutes) — for the duration of the holiday.
Origins of the feast
The term ''Pesach'' is first mentioned in the Torah account of the Exodus from Egypt (Exodus 12:23). It is found in Moses' words that God "will pass over" the houses of the Israelites during the final plague of the Ten Plagues of Egypt, the killing of the first-born. On the night of that plague, which occurred on the 15th day of Nisan, the Israelites smeared their lintels and doorposts with the blood of the sacrifice and were spared.
There is some debate about the exact meaning of the verb ''pesach'' as it appears in Exodus. The commonly held assumption that it means "he passed over", stems from the translation provided in the Septuagint. Judging from other instances of the verb, and instances of parallelism, a more faithful translation may be "he hovered over, guarding." Indeed, this is the image used by Isaiah by his use of this verb in Isaiah. 31:5: "As birds hovering, so will the Lord of hosts protect Jerusalem; He will deliver it as He protecteth it, He will rescue it as He ''passeth over''".
The term ''Pesach'' also refers to the lamb or kid which was designated as the Passover sacrifice (called the ''Korban Pesach'' in Hebrew). Four days before the Exodus, the Israelites were commanded to set aside a lamb or kid (Exodus 12:3) and inspect it daily for blemishes. During the day on the 14th of Nisan, they were to slaughter the animal and use its blood to mark their lintels and doorposts. Up until midnight on the 15th of Nisan, they were to consume the lamb. Each family (or group of families) gathered together to eat a meal that included the meat of the ''Korban Pesach'' while the Tenth Plague ravaged Egypt.
In subsequent years, during the existence of the Tabernacle and later the Temple in Jerusalem, the ''Korban Pesach'' was eaten during the Passover Seder on the 15th of Nisan. However, following the destruction of the Temple, no sacrifices may be offered or eaten. The story of the ''Korban Pesach'' is therefore retold at the Passover Seder, and the symbolic food which represents it on the Seder Plate is usually a roasted lamb shankbone, chicken wing, or chicken neck.
The English term "Passover" came into the English language through William Tyndale's translation of the Bible, and later appeared in the King James Version as well.
Although the term ''Pesach'' is not mentioned until the Book of Exodus, there are indications that at least parts of the feast were observed in earlier times. For example, Genesis 19:3 refers to the "matzot" which Lot served his angelic guests. According to Rashi, quoting Talmud Yoma 28b, the Patriarchs and their families intuited the celebration of all the Jewish holidays, as well as the 613 mitzvot which God would command in the future through the giving of the Torah, and kept the mitzvot voluntarily.
When the Temple was standing, the focus of the Passover festival was the ''Korban Pesach'' (lit. "Pesach sacrifice," also known as the "Paschal Lamb"). Every family (or, if the family was too small to finish eating the entire offering in one sitting, group of families) was required to offer a young lamb or kid at the Jewish Temple on the afternoon of the 14th day of Numbers 9:11), and eat it that night, which was the 15th of Nisan (Exodus 12:6). The offering could not be slaughtered while one was in possession of leaven (Exodus 23:18). It had to be roasted (Exodus 12:9) and eaten together with matzo and maror (Exodus 12:8). One had to be careful not to break any bones from the offering (Exodus 12:46). None of the meat could be left over until morning (Exodus 12:10, 23:18).
Because of the ''Korban Pesach'''s status as a sacred offering, the only people allowed to eat it are those who have the obligation to bring the offering. Among those who can not offer or eat the ''Korban Pesach'' are: An apostate (Exodus 12:43), a servant (Exodus 12:45), an uncircumcised man (Exodus 12:48), a person in a state of ritual impurity, except when a majority of Jews are in such a state (''Pesahim'' 66b). The offering must be made before a quorum of 30 (''Pesahim'' 64b). In the Temple, the Levites sing Hallel while the Kohanim perform the sacrificial service. Men and women are equally obligated regarding the ''Korban Pesach'' (''Pesahim'' 91b).
If someone missed the opportunity to eat the sacrifice, he or she could make it up one month later on the night of the 15th of Iyar (Numbers 9:11), a day which is known as ''Pesach Sheini'' ("Second Pesach"). Just as on the first Pesach night, one must not break any bones from the second Paschal offering (Numbers 9:12) or leave meat over until morning (Numbers 9:12).
Today, in the absence of the Temple, the mitzvah of the ''Korban Pesach'' is memorialized in the form of a symbolic food placed on the Passover Seder Plate, which is usually a roasted shankbone. Ashkenazic Jews have a custom of not eating lamb or goat during the Seder in deference to the absence of the Temple. Many Sephardic Jews, however, have the opposite custom of eating lamb or goat meat during the Seder in memory of the ''Korban Pesach''.
A commandment to eat matzo on the first night of Passover, and to only eat matzo during the week of Passover . The eating of matzo figures prominently in the Passover Seder.
There are several explanations for the eating of matzo on Passover. Some suggest that it is because the Hebrews left Egypt with such haste that there was no time to allow the bread to rise and thus flat bead, matzo, is a reminder of the Exodus. Other scholars teach that in the time of the Exodus, matzo was commonly baked for the purpose of traveling because it preserved well and was light to carry. They suggest that matzo was baked intentionally for the long journey ahead. Matzo has also been called - Lechem Oni - or poor man's bread. Passover is a time to be humbled and remember what it is like to be a poor slave. In this explanation, matzo serves as a symbol to appreciate freedom and avoid the puffed ego symbolized by leavened bread.
''Chametz'' refers to either a grain product that is already fermented (e.g. bread, cake, and pasta) or a substance that can ferment grain products (e.g. yeast or sourdough). During Passover, the only grain product that can be owned or eaten is one in which flour and water have not combined for more than 18-22 minutes—i.e. matzo.
The Torah commandments regarding ''chametz'' are:
Left to right: grated horseradish mixed with cooked beets and sugar (known as ''chrein'' in Yiddish); romaine lettuce; whole horseradish root A commandment to eat ''Maror,'' bitter herbs (typically, horseradish or romaine lettuce), together with matzo and the sacrifice . In the absence of the Temple, Jews cannot bring the Passover sacrifice. This commandment is fulfilled today by the eating of ''Maror'' both by itself and together with matzo in a ''Koreich''-sandwich during the Passover Seder.
Recounting the Exodus
On the first night of Passover (first two nights outside Israel), a Jew must recount the story of the Exodus from Egypt. This commandment is performed during the Passover Seder.
There is a Rabbinic obligation to drink four cups of wine (or pure grape juice) during the Seder. This applies to both men and women. The Mishnah says (Pes. 10:1) that even the poorest man in Israel has an obligation to drink. Each cup is connected to a different part of the Seder: The First Cup is for Kiddush, the Second Cup is connected with the recounting of the Exodus, the drinking of the Third Cup concludes Birkat Hamazon and the Fourth Cup is associated with Hallel.
Removal and sale of ''chametz''
In accordance with the mitzvah of not eating or owning leavened products during Passover, religious Jewish families typically spend the weeks before the holiday in a flurry of housecleaning. The purpose is to remove every morsel of fermented grain products (called ''chametz'') from all the cupboards and corners in the home. The search for ''chametz'' is often a thorough one, as children's rooms and kitchens are cleaned from top to bottom and forgotten packages or pieces of cookies or crackers are uncovered under beds and inside closets. Although many ensure that not even a crumb of ''chametz'' remains, the Halakha only requires the elimination of olive-sized quantities of leavening from one's possession.
Meanwhile, the family attempts to consume or dispose of all edible ''chametz'' products (like bread, pasta, cookies, soup mixes, and even non-kosher-for-Passover matzo—which, being designed for year-round use, is allowed to rise for more than 22 minutes before baking) so as to have nothing left by the morning before the holiday begins.
''Chametz'' that has a high monetary value (such as liquor which is made from wheat) may be sold rather than discarded. This sale of ''chametz'' is conducted via the community rabbi, who becomes the "agent" for all the community's Jews through a halakhic procedure called a ''kinyan'' (acquisition). As the agent, the rabbi will sell all the ''chametz'' to a non-Jew for a price to be negotiated after the holiday. In the meantime, the non-Jew is asked to put down a small down payment (e.g. $1.00), with the remainder due after Passover. As soon as the holiday ends, the rabbi will contact the non-Jew, to buy the community's ''chametz'' back from him. In practice, it is almost inevitably bought back, with a small profit to the non-Jew.
This sale is considered completely binding according to Halakha, to the point that each householder must put aside all the ''chametz'' he is selling into a box or cupboard and assume that at any time during the holiday, the non-Jewish buyer may come to take or partake of his share. Similarly, Jewish store owners who stock leavened food products sell everything in their storeroom to a non-Jew with full knowledge that the new "owner" can claim his property. In the Eastern European shtetls, the Jews, who were often tavern keepers, would sell their ''chametz'' in this way to neighboring non-Jews, and risk having the non-Jews enter their cellars to drink all the liquor during the holiday—which they often did.
Formal search for ''chametz''
After dark on the 14th of Nisan, a formal search for leavened products (''bedikat chametz'') is conducted. The head of the house recites a blessing and proceeds to go from room to room and cupboard to cupboard to make sure that no crumbs remain in any corner. There is a custom to turn off the lights in the room being searched and conduct the search using candlelight, a feather and a wooden spoon. Candlelight effectively illuminates corners without casting shadows; the feather can dust crumbs out of their hiding places; and the wooden spoon which collects the crumbs can be burned the next day with the ''chametz''.
Traditionally, 10 morsels of bread are carefully wrapped in aluminium foil or plastic and "hidden" around the house before the search begins. This ensures that the head of the house will find some ''chametz'' so that his blessing will not be in vain.
Burning the ''chametz''
In the morning, any leavened products that were found during the search, along with the 10 morsels of bread, are burned (''s'rayfat chametz''). The head of the household declares any ''chametz'' that may not have been found to be null and void "as the dust of the earth" (''biyur chametz''). Should more ''chametz'' actually be found in the house during the Passover holiday, it must be burnt.
Unlike ''chametz'', which can be eaten any day of the year except during Passover, kosher for Passover foodstuffs can be eaten on Passover and year-round. They need not be burnt after the holiday ends.
The weeks before Passover are also the time for the baking of the matzos which will be eaten during the holiday. In Orthodox Jewish communities, men traditionally gather in groups (''chaburas'') to bake a special version of handmade matzo called ''shmura matzo'' ("guarded matzo", referring to the fact that the wheat is guarded from contamination by chametz from the time it is cut in the summer until it is baked into matzos for the following Passover). Since the dough is rolled by hand, ''shmura matzos'' come out large and round. ''Chaburas'' also work together in machine-made matzo factories, which produce the typically square-shaped matzo sold in stores.
The baking process is a time-consuming job, as each batch of dough can only be worked on from start to finish (from mixing the flour and water to removing from the oven) for 18-22 minutes, depending on custom. Consequently, only a small amount of matzos can be baked at one time. The ''chabura'' members are enjoined to constantly work the dough so that it is not allowed to ferment and rise. A special cutting tool is run over the dough just before baking to create the familiar dotted holes in the matzo. After the 18-22 minutes are up and the matzos come out of the oven, the entire work area is scrubbed down and swept to make sure that no pieces of dough are left behind. By definition, any stray pieces of dough are now ''chametz'', and can invalidate the next batch of matzo if they come in contact with it.
Matzo by-products, such as matzo farfel (broken bits of matzo) and matzo meal (finely-ground matzo) are used as flour substitutes in the baking of Passover cakes and cookies.
Due to the strict separation between matzo products and ''chametz'' during Passover, families typically own complete sets of serving dishes, glassware and silverware that are reserved for use during Passover only. Under certain circumstances, some ''chametz'' utensils can be immersed in boiling water (''hagalat keilim'') to purge them of any traces of ''chametz'' they have accumulated throughout the year. Many Sephardic families thoroughly wash their year-round glassware and then use it for Passover, as the Sephardic position is that glass does not absorb enough traces of food to present a problem.
Fast of the firstborn
On the morning before Passover, the fast of the firstborn takes place. This fast commemorates the salvation of the Israelite firstborns during the Plague of the Firstborn (according to the Book of Exodus, the tenth of ten plagues wrought upon ancient Egypt prior to the Exodus of the Children of Israel), when, according to Exodus (12:29): ''"...God struck every firstborn in the Land of Mitzrayim (ancient Egypt)...."'' In practice, however, most firstborns only fast until the end of the morning prayer service in synagogue. This is due to the widespread custom for a member of the congregation to conduct a ''siyum'' (ceremony marking the completion of a section of Torah learning) right after services and invite everyone to partake in a celebratory meal. According to widespread custom, partaking of this meal removes one's obligation to fast.
The Passover Seder
It is traditional for a Jewish family to gather on the first night of Passover (first two nights outside the land of Israel) for a special dinner called a Seder. The table is set with the finest china and silverware to reflect the importance of this meal. During this meal, the story of the Exodus from Egypt is retold using a special text called the Haggadah. Four cups of wine are consumed at various stages in the narrative.
The Seder is replete with questions, answers, and unusual practices (e.g. the recital of Kiddush which is not immediately followed by the blessing over bread, which is the traditional procedure for all other holiday meals) to arouse the interest and curiosity of the children at the table. The children are also rewarded with nuts and candies when they ask questions and participate in the discussion of the Exodus and its aftermath. Likewise, they are encouraged to search for the ''afikoman'', the piece of matzo which is the last thing eaten at the Seder. The child or children who discover the hiding place of the ''afikoman'' are rewarded with a prize or money. Audience participation and interaction is the rule, and many families' Seders last long into the night with animated discussions and much singing. The Seder concludes with additional songs of praise and faith printed in the Haggadah, including ''Chad Gadya'' ("One Kid Goat").
The holiday week
Like the holiday of Sukkot, the intermediary days of Passover are known as Chol HaMoed (festival weekdays) and are imbued with a semi-festive status. It is a time for family outings and picnic lunches of matzo, hardboiled eggs, fruits and vegetables and Passover treats such as macaroons and homemade candies.
The prohibition against eating leavened food products and regular flour during Passover results in the increased consumption of potatoes, eggs and oil in addition to fresh milk and cheeses, fresh meat and chicken, and fresh fruit and vegetables. To make a "Passover cake," recipes call for potato starch or "Passover cake flour" (made from finely granulated matzo) instead of regular flour, and a large amount of eggs (8 and over) to achieve fluffiness. Cookie recipes use matzo farfel (broken bits of matzo) or ground nuts as the base. For families with Eastern European backgrounds, borsht, a soup made with beets, is a Passover tradition.
Some hotels, resorts, and even cruise ships across America, Europe and Israel also undergo a thorough housecleaning and import of Passover foodstuffs to make their premises "kosher for Pesach", with the goal of attracting families for a week-long vacation. Besides their regular accommodations and on-site recreational facilities, these hotels assemble a package of lectures given by a "rabbi in residence," children's activities, and tours to entertain Passover guests. Each meal is a demonstration of the chefs' talents in turning the basic foodstuffs of Passover into a culinary feast.
Counting of the Omer
Beginning on the second night of Passover, the 16th day of Nisan, Jews begin the practice of the Counting of the Omer, a nightly reminder of the approach of the holiday of Shavuot 50 days hence. Each night after the evening prayer service, men and women recite a special blessing and then enumerate the day of the Omer. On the first night, for example, they say, "Today is the first day in (or, to) the Omer"; on the second night, "Today is the second day in the Omer." The counting also involves weeks; thus, the seventh day is commemorated, "Today is the seventh day, which is one week in the Omer." The eighth day is marked, "Today is the eighth day, which is one week and one day in the Omer," etc.
When the Holy Temple stood in Jerusalem, the Omer was an actual offering of a measure of barley, which was offered each day between the 16th of Nisan and the eve of Shavuot. Since the destruction of the Temple, this offering is brought in word rather than deed.
One explanation for the Counting of the Omer is that it shows the connection between Passover and Shavuot. The physical freedom that the Israelites achieved at the Exodus from Egypt was only the beginning of a process that climaxed with the spiritual freedom they gained at the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai. Another explanation is that the newborn nation which emerged after the Exodus needed time to learn their new responsibilities vis-a-vis Torah and mitzvot before accepting God's law. The distinction between the Omer offering—a measure of barley, typically animal fodder—and the Shavuot offering—two loaves of wheat bread, human food—symbolizes the transition process.
Seventh day of Passover
''Shvi'i shel Pesach'' (the seventh day of Passover) is another full holiday, with special prayer services and festive meals. (Outside the land of Israel, ''Shvi'i shel Pesach'' is celebrated on both the seventh and eighth days of Passover). This holiday commemorates the day the Israelites reached the Red Sea and witnessed both the miraculous "Splitting of the Sea" and the drowning of all the Egyptian chariots, horses and soldiers that pursued them. According to the Midrash, only Pharaoh was spared to give testimony to the miracle that occurred.
Hasidic Rebbes traditionally hold a ''tish'' on the night of ''Shvi'i shel Pesach'' and place a cup or bowl of water on the table before them. They use this opportunity to speak about the Splitting of the Sea to their disciples, and sing songs of praise to God.
Start and end
The start of Passover on 15 Nisan in the fixed Hebrew calendar which in the Gregorian calendar corresponds to:
The end of biblical Israel on 21 Nisan in the fixed Hebrew calendar which in the Gregorian calendar corresponds to:
The end of Passover outside of biblical Israel on 22 Nisan in the fixed Hebrew calendar which in the Gregorian calendar corresponds to:
The second passover (''Pesach Sheni'') on the 15th of Iyar in the Hebrew Calendar is mentioned in the Hebrew Bible as a make-up day for people who were unable to offer the pesach sacrifice at the appropriate time due to ritual impurity or distance from Jerusalem. Today ''Pesach Sheni'' exists as a very minor holiday. There are no special prayers or observances, but ''Tachanun'' is not said, and in some communities some of the restrictions of the Omer period are lifted.
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