November 19, 2019

How to Jew: Passover


Passover, or Pesach, is the holiday during which Jews celebrate their liberation from Egyptian slavery. It lasts for eight days, from the 15th of Nissan to the 22nd, with the first two days and last two days traditionally being full-fledged holidays during which no work, aside from cooking, is permitted.

The Exodus from Egypt came about after God sent Moses to warn Pharaoh to free the Jews after generations of bondage. When Pharaoh refused, God punished Egypt with 10 plagues: Water turned into blood, frogs crawled from the water to cover the land, lice and other biting bugs rose out of the dust, flies swarmed, livestock became diseased, the Egyptians suffered boils, hail stormed down, locusts covered everything, the sky was dark for three days and, finally, all the firstborn Egyptians died. To save their firstborns, the Jews marked their doors with lamb’s blood so God would “pass over” their homes.

After the 10th plague, Pharaoh expelled the Jews from Egypt. The Jews left so quickly that the bread they were baking did not have time to rise. 


To prepare for Passover, we traditionally clean our homes of all the chametz, or leavened grain. The night before Passover, it is customary to do a search for chametz in the home with a candle, feather, wooden spoon and bag. On the morning before Passover, all the chametz is burned. The chametz that cannot be disposed of can be sold to a non-Jew until the holiday ends.

On the first two nights of the holiday, we hold feasts known as seders (literally, “order”). During these festive meals, we follow a particular order as we take turns retelling the Passover story, reading from our haggadahs. We eat matzo to commemorate the unleavened bread the Jews made while escaping Egypt, and we drink four cups of wine or grape juice to celebrate our freedom. An extra cup, known as Elijah’s cup, is left untouched, in honor of the prophet whose reappearance will signal the coming of the Messiah.


We eat matzo throughout the seder and the holiday. On our seder plate, we traditionally include a lamb shank as a symbol of offering for the Temple (zeroa); an egg to symbolize rebirth (beitzah); a bitter herb like horseradish as a symbol of our bitter enslavement (maror); parsley or another nonbitter vegetable dipped into salt water to represent our tears (karpas); a nut, apple and wine mixture to symbolize the bricks and mortar used by the enslaved peoples (charoset); and a second bitter herb like romaine lettuce (chazeret).

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