See T. H. Gaster, Passover: Its History and Traditions (1949, repr. 1962); P. Goodman, ed., The Passover Anthology (1961).
Passover (Hebrew, Yiddish: פֶּסַח, Pesach, Tiberian: pɛsaħ, Israeli: Pesah, Pesakh, Yiddish: Peysekh) is a Jewish and Samaritan holy day and festival commemorating God sparing the Jews when He killed the first born of Egypt. Followed by the seven day Feast of the Unleavened Bread commemorating the Exodus from Egypt and the liberation of the Israelites from slavery.
Passover begins on the 14th day of the month of Nisan, the first month of the Hebrew calendar in accordance with the Hebrew Bible. The Exodus of the Jews from Egypt took place in the spring and so Passover is celebrated in the spring for one day, immediately followed by the Feast of Unleavened Bread for seven days.
In the story of Moses, God set ten plagues upon the Egyptians to convince Pharaoh to release the Israelites. The tenth plague was the killing of the firstborn sons. However, the Israelites were instructed to mark the doorposts of their homes with the blood of a spring lamb, and upon seeing this, the spirit of the Lord passed over these homes, hence the term "passover". When Pharaoh then freed the Israelites, it is said that they left in such a hurry that they could not wait for bread to rise. In commemoration, for the duration of Passover, no leavened bread is eaten, for which reason it is also called "The Festival of the Unleavened Bread" . Instead, matza is eaten, and is the primary symbol of the holiday. Those who have real concerns with the Kosher for Passover diet, due to health issues, such as diabetes, should consult with their Rabbi and doctor.
Together with Shavuot ("Pentecost") and Sukkot ("Tabernacles"), Passover is one of the three pilgrim festivals (Shalosh Regalim) during which the entire Jewish populace historically made a pilgrimage to the Temple in Jerusalem. Samaritans still make this pilgrimage to Mount Gerizim, but only men participate in public worship.
In Israel, Passover is a Sabbath and the seven-day holiday of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, with the first and last days observed as legal holidays and as holy days involving abstention from work, special prayer services, and holiday meals; the intervening days are known as Chol HaMoed ("festival days"). Diaspora Jews historically observed the festival for eight days, and most still do. Reform and Reconstructionst Jews and Israeli Jews, wherever they are, usually observe the holiday over seven days. The reason for this extra day is not known. It is thought by many scholars that Jews outside of Israel could not be certain if their local calendars fully conformed to practice of the temple at Jerusalem, so they added an extra day. But as this practice only attaches to certain (major) holy days, others posit the extra day may have been added to accommodate people who had to travel long distances to participate in communal worship and ritual practices; or the practice may have evolved as a compromise between conflicting interpretations of Jewish Law regarding the calendar; or it may have evolved as a safety measure in areas where Jews were commonly in danger, so that their enemies could not be certain on which day to attack.
Passover is a biblically-mandated holiday; the unblemished lamb was set aside on the 10th and then publicly killed in the temple on the preparation day, the 13th, as evening approached (the days began and ended at sunset), then the lambs would be prepared and eaten while standing that evening, the 14th, with nothing of it to remain by morning. All leavening was removed from their houses on the 13th, the preparation day as well. The Feast of Unleavened Bread is also a biblically-mandated holiday: in which Jews are commanded to recount the story of The Exodus. Deuteronomy 16:3 states:
Leviticus 23:5-8 states:
The term Pesach (פֶּסַח) may also refer 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 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 door posts. 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 Nissan. 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 shank, chicken wing, or chicken neck.
Because of the Korban Pesach's status as a sacred offering, the only people allowed to eat it were those who have the obligation to bring the offering. Among those who can not offer or eat the Korban Pesach are: An apostate a servant an uncircumcised man 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).
Women were obligated, as men, to perform the Korban Pesach and to participate in a Seder.
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. Many Sephardic Jews, however, have the opposite custom of eating lamb or goat meat during the Seder in memory of the Korban Pesach
In Ashkenazic and certain Sephardic applications of Jewish Law, "chametz" does not include baking soda, baking powder or like products. Although these are leavening agents, they leaven by chemical reaction whereas the prohibition against chametz is understood to apply only to fermentation. Thus, bagels, waffles and pancakes made with baking soda and matzo meal are considered permissible, while bagels made with yeast, sourdough pancakes and waffles, and the like, are prohibited. Karaite Jews and many non-Ashkenazic Jewish traditions do not observe a distinction between chemical leavening and leavening by fermentation.
The Torah commandments regarding chametz are:
Observant Jews typically spend the weeks before Passover in a flurry of thorough housecleaning, to remove every morsel of chametz from every part of the home. The oral Jewish law (Halakha) requires the elimination of olive-sized or larger quantities of leavening from one's possession, but most housekeeping goes beyond this. Even the cracks of kitchen counters are thoroughly scrubbed, for example, to remove any traces of flour and yeast, however small. Traditionally, Jews do a formal search for remaining chametz ("bedikat chametz") after nightfall on the evening before Passover (which is also the evening that precedes the Fast of the Firstborn). A blessing is read (על ביעור חמץ - al biyur chametz, "on the removal of chametz") and one or more members of the household proceed from room to room to ensure no crumbs remain in any corner. In very traditional families, the search may be conducted by the head of the household; in more modern families, the children may be the ones who do the search, under the careful supervision of their parents.
It is customary to turn off the lights and conduct the search by candlelight, using 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.
Because the house is assumed to have been thoroughly cleaned by the night before Passover, there is some concern that making a blessing over the search for chametz will be for nought ("bracha l'vatala") if nothing is found. Thus, ten pieces of bread smaller than the size of an olive are hidden throughout the house in order to ensure that there is chametz to be found.
The sale of chametz may also be conducted communally via the rabbi, who becomes the "agent" for all the community's Jews through a halakhic procedure called a "kinyan" (acquisition). Each householder must put aside all the chametz he is selling into a box or cupboard, and the rabbi enters into a contract to sell all the chametz to a non-Jewish person (who is not obligated to observe the commandments) in exchange for a small down payment (e.g. $1.00), with the remainder due after Passover. This sale is considered completely binding according to Halakha, and at any time during the holiday, the buyer may come to take or partake of his property. The rabbi then re-purchases the goods for less than they were sold at the end of the holiday.
Observant Jewish store owners who stock leavened food products sell everything in their storeroom in this fashion with the full knowledge that the new owner is entitled to claim the property. In Eastern European shtetls, Jewish tavernkeepers, would sell their alcoholic chametz and risk having their neighbors enter their cellars to drink the liquor.
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 or otherwise discarded after the holiday ends. The sole exception is the historic sacrificial lamb, which is almost never part of the modern Jewish holiday but is still a principal feature of Samaritan observance. The meat of this lamb, which is slaughtered and cooked on the evening of Passover, must be completely consumed before the morning.()
The Torah says that it is because the Hebrews left Egypt with such haste that there was no time to allow baked bread to rise; thus, flat bread, matzo, is a reminder of the rapid departure 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, suggesting that matzo was baked intentionally for the long journey ahead.
Matzo has also been called Lechem Oni (Hebrew: "poor man's bread"). There is an attendant explanation that matzo serves as a symbol to remind Jews what it is like to be a poor slave and to promote humility, appreciate freedom, and avoid the inflated ego symbolized by leavened bread..
After the matzos come out of the oven, the entire work area is scrubbed down and swept to make sure that no pieces of old, potentially leavened dough remain, as any stray pieces are now chametz, and can contaminate the next batch of matzo.
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)...." Many authorities, including the Rema, note the custom that fathers of firstborn sons are required to observe the fast if their son has not yet reached the age of Bar Mitzvah. 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. If the first born is a boy in a Jewish family, that boy will have to fast after he has his Bar Mitzva.
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 (סדר—derived from the Hebrew word for "order", referring to the very specific order of the ritual). 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 Haggadah divides the night's procedure into these 14 parts:
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").
Children have a very important role in the Passover Seder. Traditionally the youngest child is prompted to ask questions about the Passover Seder. The questions encourage the gathering to discuss the significance of the symbols in the meal. The questions asked by the child are: Why is this night different from all other nights? Why tonight do we eat only unleavened bread? Why tonight do we eat bitter herbs? Why tonight do we dip them twice? Why tonight do we all recline? Often the leader of the Seder and the other adults at the meal will use prompted responses from the Haggadha, which begin, “We must obey the command to talk about the Exodus from Egypt. The more one talks about it the more praiseworthy it is.” Many readings, prayers, and stories are used to recount the story of the Exodus. Many households add their own commentary and interpretation and often the story of the Jews is related to theme of liberation and its implications worldwide. Originally the Seder meal was eaten before the questions were asked, but today most families recount the story of the Exodus before the meal.
The afikoman is another part of the Seder meal that is used to engage children at Passover. In the beginning to the meal, the Leader takes the second piece of matzah and breaks it. The larger portion is put away as afikoman, which will be the last piece of food eaten during the evening as a reminder of the paschal sacrifice. Traditions vary in different areas, but in many homes, the afikoman is hidden and at a certain point in the meal, Zafun, children will be sent to search for the afikoman with an offer of a reward. This encourages children to stay awake for the whole Seder.
In some communities, such as the Ashkenazi, the children try during the meal to “steal” the afikoman from the leader of the Seder. The leader will hide the afikoman from the children. If the children are able to steal the afikoman, they will offer it back with a “ransom” of presents. They are promised the presents after the Seder, again being encouraged to stay awake for the whole celebration.
After the Hallel, the fourth glass of wine the hymn is recited that ends in “Next year in Jerusalem!” Following this, a sing-a-long ensues that consists of many cheerful and fun Hebrew songs. This part of the celebration is a reward for children who have stayed awake through the whole Seder.
Outside Israel, in Orthodox and Conservative communities, the holiday lasts for eight days with the first two days and last two days being major holidays. A seder is conducted twice, on both the first and second days. In the intermediate days necessary work can be performed.
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.
When the Temple stood in Jerusalem, the Omer was an actual offering of a measure of barley, which was offered each of the 50 days. 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.
Shvi'i shel Pesach (שביעי של פסח "seventh [day] of Passover") is another full Jewish holiday, with special prayer services and festive meals. Outside the Land of Israel in the Jewish diaspora, Shvi'i shel Pesach is celebrated on both the seventh and eighth days of Passover. This holiday commemorates the day the Children of Israel reached the Red Sea and witnessed both the miraculous "Splitting of the Sea," the drowning of all the Egyptian chariots, horses and soldiers that pursued them, and the Passage of the Red Sea. 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.
Today, Pesach Sheni on the 14th of Iyar has the status of a very minor holiday (so much so that many of the Jewish people have never even heard of it, and it essentially does not exist outside of Orthodox and traditional Conservative Judaism). There are not really any special prayers or observances that are considered Jewish law. The only change in the liturgy is that in some communities Tachanun, a penitential prayer omitted on holidays, is not said. There is a custom, though not Jewish law, to eat just one piece of Matzah on that night.
The Christian holiday of Easter is related to Passover. The holy day is actually called "Passover" in most languages other than English, and its central theme is that Christ was the paschal lamb in human form. Additionally, the New Testament relates that Christ's Last Supper was a Passover seder, but whether it was a first night or last (seventh) night seder is not clear. The latter seems more likely and it is known that the first Easter celebrations, by Jews who believed Jesus Christ to be the Messiah, were simply tacked on to the end of regular Passover celebrations. This historical calendaring of Passover may still be operational in some ancient or ancient-conforming independent churches. The Eastern Orthodox holiday invariably still coincides with Passover, too, but this is by calendrical accident. In the Western and Eastern parish-centred traditions, Easter was fixed in medieval times to the full moon of the vernal equinox, reckoned functionally as March 21. But the Orthodox Churches continue to use the Julian Calendar more than 250 to 450 years after the Western churches adopted the Gregorian Calendar. Julian March 21 is the currently the same day as Gregorian April 3 - thus, the earliest Easter can fall on either calendar is March 22, but March 22 on the Julian Calendar is April 4 on the Gregorian. Jehovah's Witnesses are one of a few (usually) Western churches that do not observe Easter but, instead, observe only the Last Supper on the first evening of Passover; but they do not necessarily use the same date as the modern Jewish calendar, but it sometimes corresponds with the same full moon as the festival of Purim.
The dates of Easter and Passover usually fall within a week or so of each other, but in years 3, 11, and 14 of the 19-year metonic cycle, which is used in the Hebrew calendar, Passover will fall about a month after the (Gregorian) Easter. This is because the metonic cycle does not correspond entirely to the length of the tropical year. So, over the centuries the date of the vernal equinox (which is March 21 by Christian reckoning) has been drifting to later and later dates in relation to metonic cycle. So, the rule for Passover, which was originally intended to track the vernal equinox, has gotten a few days off. In ancient times this was not a problem since Passover was set by actual observations of the New Moon and of the vernal equinox. However, after Hillel II standardized the Hebrew calendar in the 4th century, actual observations of celestial events no longer played a part in the determination of the date of Passover. The Gregorian calendar reform of 1582 brought the Western Church back into line with the astronomical cycle. Similarly, because of the interplay of these variables, Orthodox Easter occurs about a month after Gregorian Easter in years 3, 8, 11, 14 and 19 of the metonic cycle. In three of these years (years 3, 11 and 14), Passover also falls about a month after Gregorian Easter.