What is Passover?
The Pesach or Passover is a significant Jewish festival dating back to about 1300 BCE. It is celebrated to commemorate the liberation of the Israelites from Egypt, where they had been enslaved. The story of the Jewish exodus is recounted in the Hebrew Bible’s Book of Exodus. During this festival which was held in spring, the Jews also offered the first produce of barley to God in the Temple of Jerusalem.
Date and Duration of Celebration
Celebrations begin on day 15 of Nisan, which falls in either March or April. The day has to begin on a full moon night following the vernal equinox. In some years, due to interventions in the Jewish calendar, it is held on the subsequent full moon. The festival has to be held in spring.
The festivities last for seven days. The first day and the last day are officially observed as holidays in some places and are regarded as holy days. Special meals are prepared and prayer services are held. The five days in between are known as Festival Weekdays. The festival is also known as the Feast of Unleavened Bread.
In ancient Jewish tradition, it began with the offering of a sacrificial lamb at the Tabernacle or in the Temple of Jerusalem. The lamb was to be eaten during Passover Seder or dinner together with bitter herbs and unleavened bread. The Jews were supposed to roast the lamb whole and none of the animal’s bones were to be broken. Small families that could not consume a whole lamb were allowed to make joint offerings with other families since the meat had to be finished the same night.
Modern day celebrations do not involve a sacrificial lamb. Rabbinic and scriptural passages concerning the offering are recited instead. The recitations are done after a prayer service held on the afternoon of the 14th day of Nisan. A shank bone roast placed on a Passover Seder Plate is used to symbolize the roasted lamb. The neck or wing of a chicken can also be used. This food is however not eaten.
The passover supper is a special dinner held on the first night of Passover. The table setting for the dinner is done using the finest silverware and china. The Exodus story is recounted using the Haggadah, which is a special text. It is divided into 15 parts and during the narration, four cups of wine are taken. Maror or bitter herbs are eaten to symbolize the bitterness of the Israelites when they were enslaved in Egypt. Matzo, a flatbread baked without leavening, is also eaten. According to Jewish tradition, eating the unleavened bread symbolizes humility.
During Seder, blessings are said and songs of praise are sung. The dinner is interactive with discussions where questions, answers and other practices relating to the Exodus are carried out. Rewards of candies and nuts are given to children for participating in the discussions. Ashura feast held by sunni Muslims and the Passover feast celebrated by Christians during Easter are influenced by the Jewish Passover practice.