The Holy One, Blessed be He, passed over the homes of the Israelites as he smote the firstborn of the Egyptians, from the son of Pharaoh to the son of the servants. Pharaoh was spared to see how G-d delivered His Chosen People from the hands of those who would destroy them, as He does in every generation. And the joyous holiday of Passover, in which we relive that redemption and sing "Next year in rebuilt Jerusalem", begins Friday night.
Arutz Sheva brings you a summary of the main aspects of the holiday in Jewish law and practice. For details on koshering a kitchen for Passover, click here and for Torah thoughts for the holiday from well known rabbis and religious scholars, click here and continue to read our Judaism section.
Passover (Pesach), called the Holiday of Our Freedom, will take place in Israel this year between sunset on Friday, April 6, (15th of Nisan) and Friday night, April 13th, but because of the Sabbath, will effectively end on Saturday night April 14th.
The first and seventh days are always marked as Sabbath-like holy days (Yom Tov) in which work is forbidden.Since this year, the holiday in Israel ends as the Sabbath begins, there are two holy days at the end of the holiday.
Jews outside of Israel observe an additional holy day in both the beginning and end of Pesach, which lasts eight days for them. Jews visiting Israel only for the holiday should refrain, on the eighth day, from activities not allowed on holy days, but do not have to perform specific commandments related to the holiday, such as extra prayers. There are differing halakhic decisions on the issue, with some rabbis saying that that visitors must keep the additional days as if they were in the Diaspora, including having a second Seder.
Jews are commanded to tell the story of leaving Egypt at the Seder as if it had happened to them personally and not as a mere historical event. This is in order to emphasize the importance of the hard-won and precious freedom that, due to G-d's deliverance, allowed the Jewish nation to be born.
In the time of the Holy Temple, every Jew came to Jerusalem on the 14th of Nisan and at dusk, each family offered a lamb or kid to G-d in remembrance of their forefathers' deliverance from bondage, then joyously ate of the offering together. Today, statistics show that almost every Jew in Israel attends a seder. There are communal seders in many communities. At the start of the Seder, those who are in need are invited to enter and join.
It is the custome to say "Have a kosher and happy holiday" about Pesach, due to the many laws concerning the prohibition of leavened foods on the holiday.
The government of Israel sells its “chametz,” leavened products, to an Arab before the holiday in order not to transgress the commandment of not owning any chametz during the holiday. This includes any food product that contains leavened wheat, oat, barley, rye, or spelt products.
So do Jews who observe the holiday. Houses are thoroughly cleaned before Pesach and utensils and food containing chametz are sold to a non-Jew. After a search for remaining chametz in houses Thursday night, before which a special blessing is said, Jews burn it the following morning, several hours before Pesach begins. Both at night and in the morning they proclaim that any chametz left in their possession should be considered as dust - they have sold the rest.
Consult your local rabbi or an appropriate internet site for the time chametz should be burned, for the last minute one can eat chametz on Friday and when one can use it.
Dishes are changed for the holiday unless they have been made kosher for Passover through a procedure which depends on the material of which they are made. Not all materials can be made useable for Pesach.
In the absence of leaven, Jews will eat specially prepared unleavened bread, or matzah, on Pesach, as was done at the Exodus, when the Jews did not have enough time to wait for dough to rise before leaving Egypt. During their bondage, they ate matzah as well, called the "bread of affliction".
First-born males over 13 are required to fast on the day before Passover – in commemoration of the fact that first-born Jewish males were spared when first-born Egyptian males were killed during the tenth plague – but may be released of this obligation by participating in a halakhically mandated festive meal, like the ones that accompany the conclusion of study of a tractate of the Talmud or a circumcision, on the morning before Passover.
The traditional Seder is held Friday night this year – Friday and Saturday nights for Jews outside of Israel. The guide for the Seder is detailed in the Haggadah, literally "narration," which relates the story of the Exodus from Egypt, and which has many commentaries, points of discussion and rousing songs that make for a lively evening..
A plate placed on the Seder table contains several special foods: a roasted egg, symbolizing the special holiday sacrifices which were brought in the Temple; a roasted shank bone, recalling the special Passover lamb offered and eaten in Temple times; a mixture of chopped apples, nuts, wine and cinnamon known as charoset, symbolizing the mortar that the Hebrew slaves in Egypt used to make bricks; sprigs of parsley and lettuce, symbolizing spring; a bitter herb symbolizing the bitterness of slavery; and nearby, a bowl of salt water, recalling the tears shed by the Hebrew slaves in Egypt.
Four cups of wine (or most of each cup) are drunk at the Seder, each symbolizing a specific verb used by G-d in the Exodus story; a fifth cup, symbolizing a fifth verb, is filled for Elijah the Prophet, harbinger of the Messiah in the hope that he will arrive at the Seder.
Three whole pieces of matza mark the division of the Jewish people into priests (Kohenim), Levites and the general population are also placed on the table. There are also other explanations for this custom, as there are for almost all of the customs.
During the course of the Seder, the Ten Plagues are recalled. When each of the Plagues is mentioned, each participant dips a finger into his/her cup of wine and removes a drop; even though the Jews were oppressed in Egypt, we are reminded that we must not rejoice over the Egyptians' suffering. Our cups of wine cannot thus be full.
One of the more popular Seder customs for children is the asking of the Four Questions, the reaction of a child who wonders at a totally different kind of evening than what he is used to seeing during holidays. Another concerns the afikoman, a special piece of matza that is the last food eaten during the Seder. The head of the household customarily hides the afikoman somewhere in the house, and the children then search for it. Once found, the afikoman is "ransomed," since the Seder cannot continue until the afikoman is eaten. This helps to keep the children focused on the Seder and to pique their curiosity regarding the entire Passover epic.
The Seven Day Celebration, the Counting of the Omer, Maimouna:
On the morning of Tuesday 19 April, festive prayers, including a prayer for dew during the spring and summer, and special readings, will figure prominently in synagogue services.
During the intermediate days, between the first and last days, special prayers also are recited in synagogue. In Israel, all of Pesach is an official holiday for schools and most government offices. The roads in Israel are clogged, as the entire country takes to wheels - and this year, lovely spring weather is forecast. In the Torah, the Jewish people are told: " Today you are leaving [Egypt], in the month of Spring".
Jewish tradition maintains that the parting of the Red Sea and the destruction of the Egyptian army occurred on the seventh day of Passover, but even though Passover celebrates the Exodus from Egypt, Jews nevertheless do not rejoice over the death of the Egyptians in the sea and only an abridged version of Hallel (Psalms 113-118) – a holiday prayer – is recited after the first day of Passover.
On the Sabbath that marks the first day of Pesach, the day's special readings will include the Song of Songs.
From the evening of Saturday night, April 7th, Jews will keep a nightly count of the 49 days (seven weeks), until Friday evening, May 25th, one day before the holiday of Shavuot. This count commemorates the Temple offering of the omer, or sheaf of new grain, in keeping with the Biblical injunction of Leviticus 23:15-16.
Maimouna – an informal, yet widely celebrated holiday which originated among the Jews of North Africa, particularly those from Morocco, and is believed to be in honor of Maimonides, the great Torah luminary who lived in Egypt – will be celebrated Saturday night, Arpil 14th. According to custom, families prepare elaborate tables with various sweets and baked goods, and host friends and family members. Whole neighborhoods often close as celebrations spill out into the streets and parks.
For an in depth look at different aspects of the holiday, see A7's Judaism section.
Chag kasher vesameach - have a kosher and happy holiday!