Observance of Passover

The observance of the Passover religious holiday within the Jewish religion is one of the very strict rituals. There are several rules that must be adhered to.

For starters, in remembrance of the Israelites hasty departure from Egypt, all leavening is forbidden during Passover. And it’s just not the consumption of leavened bread that is forbidden, but also the keeping and owning of any leavened products during the Passover feast is not permitted. Therefore, in preparation of the Passover festival all leavened products are either eaten or given away to non-Jews. It’s important to note that fermentation and yeast are not only allowed, but are in fact required during the Passover ceremonious celebrations. On the night before Passover begins a blessing is read and then a traditional search is done through the house for any remaining chametz (leavened bread). During the days leading up to this eve, 10 morsels of bread that can be no larger than an olive are hidden throughout the house to be found and subsequently burned the next day, as part of the formal tradition.

Another ritualistic observance is that any dish, glass, or silverware that has ever touched chametz is packed up during the cleaning process and only special dishes, etc., are used during the Passover feast. It is also permissible to boil the utensils to remove any chametz from them.

Matzo is highly regarded and serves a key function in the Passover observance. It is preferred to eat matzo on the first night of Passover and then to only eat unleavened bread throughout the week of Passover.

The Passover feast lasts for seven or eight days, depending upon one’s Jewish tradition. The first night of Passover is the most reverent, containing a special dinner noted as a Seder. The book entitled Haggadah is used in the feast and is strictly and solemnly adhered to. The book tells the story of the Exodus from Egypt and has 15 phases that unfold throughout the night’s retelling. There are four cups of wine consumed throughout various parts. The 15 parts are: a blessing and the drinking of the first cup of wine; washing of the hands; dipping the karpas in salt water; breaking of the middle matzo; retelling of the Passover story, recital of the four questions and drinking of the second cup of wine; second washing of the hands, this time with a blessing; a traditional blessing before eating bread; blessing before eating matzo; eating of the maror; eating of a sandwich made of matzo and maror; serving of the holiday meal; eating of the afikoman; blessing after the meal and drinking of the third cup of wine; reciting of the Hallel and drinking of the fourth cup of wine; conclusion with songs and prayer. The 15 parts represent the 15 steps in the Temple in Jerusalem where the Levites stood during Temple services, also memorialized in the 15 Psalms.

As you can see, Passover is held as the most religious and ceremonious celebration of one of the three holiest of the Jewish holidays.

History of Passover (Pesach)

Passover, known as Pesach in the Hebrew language, is one of the most sacred and widely observed Jewish religious holidays. The religious holiday recognizes the Israelites departure after 400 years of slavery in ancient Egypt.

God instructed Moses to demand that the Pharaoh of Egypt releases the Hebrews. Moses requested the Pharaoh to allow them to return to Israel for a three-day religious celebration and feast. The Pharaoh refused and thus God delivered 10 plagues upon the Egyptians, each one worse than the previous. The final plague: the slaying of the firstborn son of every Egyptian household. Moses instructed the Jews to mark their doorways with lamb’s blood so that God would “pass over” their home during the plague. This is where the holiday is believed to have received its name: Passover.

The Pharaoh released the Israelites to return to their homes and offered them anything to make their journey a success. But the Hebrews feared the Pharaoh would change his mind thus they left in great haste, not taking the time for the bread to ‘leaven.’ This is the reason for unleavened bread to hold such an instrumental role in the rituals and ceremonious meals during the observance of the Passover festival today.

As it turns out, the Pharaoh did change his mind and gathered his army to chase after the Hebrews. When the Hebrews reached the Red Sea after 40 days and nights, they prayed to God to save them and pleaded with Moses to help. That night Moses used his staff and parted the Red Sea, allowing the Israelites to return home. As the Egyptians approached the sea, its waters fell in again and they drowned.

Observance of Passover is highly regarded and very ritualistic amongst Jews. It is a festival that lasts 7 or 8 days, depending upon ones specific to Jewish faith. It is one of the three most holiest of religious holidays within the Jewish religion and as such there is even a book that outlines with great detail how each meal shall be prepared, how the table shall be set, and which dishware and lines shall be used. It even dictates what you should wear during the meals of Passover, which shoes to wear and, reverently, how quickly the meal should be eaten. Many Jews make the great pilgrimage back to the Temple at Jerusalem as a part of their celebration, and they are told to reflect on their faith and their life in honor of God’s glorious release of their people from slavery.