Passover is a major holiday in Judaism which celebrates the liberation of the Hebrews from slavery in Egypt, as described in the biblical book of Exodus. The term “Passover” is a reference to when, according to the Bible, the Angel of Death “passed over” the Hebrew homes that had been painted with lamb’s blood and, thus, spared them the death of their firstborn sons. Passover lasts for eight days (though it is only celebrated for seven days in the land of Israel), and is marked by a total restriction on bread and leavened products. During Passover, observant Jews will not eat any bread or grain-derived products, including oats, barley, beer, spelt or anything made with wheat, such as cake. Many Jews also refrain from eating products such as rice, mustard, or lentils, which are known as “kitniyot” (literally, “legumes”), and historically were produced in fields and warehouses with grain products. Jews, whose traditions developed in the Middle East or other Sephardic countries, will eat kitniyot during Passover. The restriction on leavened products extends to ownership as well, which is why many Jews will engage in an extensive cleaning before the holiday of Passover. This cleaning is intended to remove all forbidden products from one’s home. Any products that are not thrown away must be ritually sold to a non-Jewish person, as it is forbidden to own any leavened products during the holiday itself. Usually, such sales are enacted with the tacit assumption that ownership of the items will return to the owner after the holiday, though the sale should be understood as valid.
The first two nights of the holiday of Passover are celebrated with a ‘seder’ or a multi-part ritualized meal that takes place in the home. In Israel, there is only one seder that occurs on the first night. The seder is guided by the haggadah, the ceremonial book which includes readings, prayers, guided story-telling, playful songs, and a break for the festive meal. During the time of the Temple in Jerusalem, the holiday of Passover was celebrated with a paschal lamb sacrifice and a variety of rituals. Today, the seder also incorporates many reminders of how holidays were celebrated in the Jerusalem temple. There are also special roles for children, who are encouraged to take an active part in the ritual storytelling. During the seder, Jews consume matzah, a leavened bread made from a simple wheat and water dough that must be mixed and fully baked in under 18 minutes. The “seder” also includes four ritual cups of wine and a variety of symbolic foods, such as salt water—symbolic of the tears of the Israelite slaves, and an apple-based stew known as charoset—which represents the mortar the slaves made for their construction projects. The prophet Elijah is said to visit every Jewish home on seder night—thus a place is always set for him at the table, and the door is opened for his entrance. The seder is one of the most widely celebrated Jewish rituals, and it is often the high point of the Jewish calendar for many families.
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1/26/2023 7:32:55 PM