Passover ~ Pesach – Basic Judaism

The Jews’ Passover Facsimile of a miniature from a missel of fifteenth century ornamented with paintings of the School of Van Eyck. Bibl. de l’Arsenal, Th. lat., no 199.

Passover is a family holiday and a happy one. The first and seventh days are observed as full holidays, as are the second and eighth days for many Diaspora Jews.

It is traditional for a Jewish family to gather on the first two nights (only one night in Israel) for a special dinner called a seder (literally translating as “order”, due to the very specific order of the ceremony) where the story of the Israelite exodus from Egypt is retold by the reading of the story of the Exodus from Egypt, the Haggadah.


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At the seder three matzahs are used. During the seder, the middle matzah is broken in half. The smaller piece is returned to the set of matzahs while the larger piece is designated as the afikomen, or the dessert matzoh. Two distinct customs have arisen regarding the afikomen, both of which involve the afikomen being hidden as a means of keeping the children interested in the proceedings. In one custom, a child “steals” it and the parent has to find it. If the parent can’t find it, the child is given a reward for the return of the afikomen. In the other custom the parents hide the afikomen and the children look for it at the end of the meal. If the children find it, they receive the reward.

During the seder, a platter, called the “Seder Plate” is a main part of the dinner. The Seder Plate has on it all of the main symbols of Passover. There is a roasted shank bone of a paschal lamb called a “Z’roa” which represents the offerings at the temple at Jerusalem on Passover. It has a roasted egg called a “Beitzah” which represents the Second offerings given at the temple in Jerusalem on Pesach, Shavuot, and Sukkot/Succot. There is a green, leafy vegetable (usually celery (S.) or parsley/lettuce (A.)) called “Karpas” which reminds the participants that Passover corresponds with Spring and the harvest, which, in ancient times was a cause for celebration itself. There is a dish of chopped fruits, nuts, and wine called “Charoset” which represents the mortar used by the Jews in bondage. There is dish of “maror” or bitter herbs which represent the bitterness of slavery.

There is a tradition of speaking of Four Sons. The Wise son, the Wicked son, the Simple one, and the Young one, who does not know enough to inquire. These sons represent the different types of Jews. The Wise son is the observant Jews. The Wicked son is the Jews that reject their heritage and religion. The Simple one is the Jews that are completely indifferent. The Young one is the Jews that don’t know their culture or traditions and so, cannot say anything on the subject.

Since “Seder” means “order”, it is not unexpected that there is an order to the night’s proceedings. The night goes as follows: Kaddesh קדש (Saying of Kiddush blessing and the first cup of Wine) Ur’chatz ורחץ (The washing of the hands) Karpas כרפס (Dipping of the Karpas in salt water) Yachatz יחץ (Break middle matzoh. It becomes the Afikomen) Maggid מגיד(Telling of the Passover story. The saying of the Four Question.) Rochtzah רחץ(Second washing of the hands) Motzi/ Matzah מוציא / מצה (Saying of the matzah blessing) Maror מרור (Eating of charoset and maror) Korech כורך (Eating of Matzah, charoset, and maror) Shulchan Orech שולחן עורך (Dinner is served) Tzafun צפון (Eating of the Afikomen) Barech ברך (After dinner blessing, Wine, and in Ashkenazi families: welcoming of Elijah the Prophet) Hallel הלל (Song singing, more wine) Nirtzah נירצה (Conclusion)

Passover in 2011 will start on Tuesday, the 19th of April and will continue for 7 days until Monday, the 25th of April. Note that in the Jewish calendar, a holiday begins on the sunset of the previous day, so observing Jews will celebrate Passover on the sunset of Monday, the 18th of April. Passover in 2012 will start on Saturday, the 7th of April and will continue for 7 days until Friday, the 13th of April. Passover in 2013 will start on Tuesday, the 26th of March and will continue for 7 days until Monday, the 1st of April. Passover in 2014 will start on Tuesday, the 15th of April and will continue for 7 days until Monday, the 21st of April. Passover in 2015 will start on Saturday, the 4th of April and will continue for 7 days until Friday, the 10th of April. Passover in 2016 will start on Saturday, the 23rd of April and will continue for 7 days until Friday, the 29th of April.

Passover in 2017 will start on Tuesday, the 11th of April and will continue for 7 days until Monday, the 17th of April.