Belief in brief: Passover

Friday, April 4, 2008 | 4:04 p.m. CDT; updated 5:51 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

COLUMBIA — The Jewish holiday of Passover, which begins this year at sundown April 19, is the remembrance of the story in the Bible of God’s miraculous deliverance of the Jews from slavery.

History and basics of Passover

The Hebrew Bible tells the story of how God sent 10 plagues to Egypt as a way of convincing the Egyptians to free their slaves, the Israelites, who are now called the Jews. Passover’s name comes from the last of the Ten Plagues. The Bible says that an angel of death came to Egypt and killed all firstborn male children, but those Hebrew households that had slaughtered a lamb and marked their door posts with its blood were “passed over.” After this plague, the Jews escaped Egypt in what is now called the Exodus.

Passover is “Pesach” in Hebrew and means “to pass over, to exempt or to spare.” Passover is also the name of the sacrificial offering of a lamb made in the Temple to commemorate this miracle.

Jews celebrate Passover every year on the 15th day of the month of Nissan on the Hebrew calendar; the celebration lasts eight days and seven in Israel, because of how Jews in Israel count their days.

Matzah and chametz

Because the Hebrews fled in haste from Egypt and the bread they brought had no time to rise, Jews commemorate their flight by eating only unleavened bread — bread made without yeast. Matzah (unleavened bread) is therefore a central feature of the festival. In addition, many Jews traditionally remove all leavened (chametz) products from their homes during Passover as “a symbolic way of removing the ‘puffiness’ (arrogance, pride) from one’s soul.”

The seder ritual

A special meal called a “seder,” (Hebrew for “order”) is held on the first or second night (depending on custom) of Passover and is the central observance of Passover. Some characteristics of this ritual meal are:

1. The story of the Exodus is retold, using a book called a “Haggadah.”

2. Bitter herbs are eaten to recall the pain of slavery and greens to celebrate the onset of spring.

3. The youngest at the table recites the Four Questions, which the other family members answer in unison. The Four Questions concern a general question: “Why does this night differ from all other nights?” The questions and answers are memorized and serve to pass on the tradition and its history.


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