11:33 | 24/03/2021 Print
Passover is nearly here, which means millions of observing Jews all over the world will be ridding their pantries of all leavened bread and gearing up for a seder — or maybe two.
Passover is a festival of freedom. It commemorates the Israelites’ Exodus from Egypt, and their transition from slavery to freedom. The main ritual of Passover is the seder, which occurs on the first two night (in Israel just the first night) of the holiday — a festive meal that involves the re-telling of the Exodus through stories and song and the consumption of ritual foods, including matzah and maror (bitter herbs).
|Photo: Learn Religions|
The seder’s rituals and other readings are outlined in the Haggadah — today, many different versions of this Passover guide are available in print and online, and you can also create your own.
The Hebrew word “seder” translates to “order,” and the Passover seder is a home ritual blending religious rituals, food, song, and storytelling. Families hold a seder on the first and sometimes the second night of Passover, Time cites.
It is fundamentally a religious service set around a dinner table, where the order in which participants eat, pray, drink wine, sing, discuss current social justice issues and tell stories is prescribed by a central book called the Haggadah.
A Haggadah is a book that’s read during the seder that tells the story of Passover. The Hebrew word “Haggadah” means “telling,” and according to My Jewish Learning, Haggadot date back to the Middle Ages.
In contemporary Passover celebrations, relevant political or social justice themes have been incorporated into the seder. For example, Rabbi Arthur Waskow published the “Freedom Seder” in 1969, which discussed the Civil Rights movement and the women’s movement. And while there are myriad Haggadot to choose from to fit nearly all religious, age-specific, political or even satirical needs, the retelling of the Exodus is a key fixture in a Haggadah, along with the reading of the 10 plagues, the asking of the four questions, and explaining various Passover rituals, some of which date back 2,000 years, according to My Jewish Learning.
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Passover takes place in early spring during the Hebrew calendar month of Nissan, as prescribed in the book of Exodus. Exodus 12:18 commands that Passover be celebrated, “from the fourteenth day of the month at evening, you shall eat unleavened bread until the twenty-first day of the month at evening.”
Because the Hebrew calendar does not match up with the Gregorian calendar, the date of Passover (along with other Jewish holidays) changes every year. In 2018, Passover will take place from sundown on April 8 to sundown on April 16.
Passover dates for 2021 are March 27 through April 4.
According to The Old Farmer's Almanac, the central Passover practice is a set of intense dietary changes, mainly the absence of hametz, or foods with leaven. (Ashkenazi Jews also avoid kitniyot, a category of food that includes legumes.)
In recent years, many Jews have compensated for the lack of grain by cooking with quinoa, although not all recognize it as kosher for Passover. The ecstatic cycle of psalms called Hallel is recited both at night and day (during the seder and morning prayers).
Additionally, Passover commences a 49-day period called the Omer, which recalls the count between offerings brought to the ancient Temple in Jerusalem. This count culminates in the holiday of Shavuot, the anniversary of the receiving of the Torah at Sinai.
In many Reform Jewish communities, Passover is celebrated for seven days, not eight. In more traditional Jewish communities—including both Orthodox and Conservative communities—Passover is celebrated for eight days.
Family and friends gather together after nightfall on the first and second nights of the holiday for the high point of the festival observance, the Seder. During the Seder, which means “order” in Hebrew, the experience of the Exodus is told in story, song, prayer, and the tasting of symbolic foods. The Seder meals include four cups of wine, eating matzah and bitter herbs, and retelling the story of the Exodus.
Matzah, or unleavened bread, is the main food of Passover. You can purchase it in numerous stores, or you can make your own. But the holiday has many traditional, popular foods, from haroset (a mixture of fruit, nuts, wine, and cinnamon) to matzah ball soup — and the absence of leavening calls upon a cook to employ all of his/her culinary creativity.
|Photo: Spoon University|
The meal’s menu will differ depending on the family tradition. Traditional dishes include matzo ball soup, gefilte fish, beef brisket, chicken, and potatoes. Traditional Sephardic (Mediterranean and Spanish) Passover foods reflect a Mediterranean spin on the Passover dinner.
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