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Guide to Passover

by: Caroline Westbrook - Last updated: 2012-10-04

Matzah

Matzah

Your easy to understand guide to Jewish feativals.

Pesach (Passover)

This takes place around March/April time, and commemorates Moses freeing the Israelites from their enslavement under the Pharaoh in Egypt. The festival lasts for eight days and during that time no 'leavened' food (i.e food containing wheat or any type of grain) may be consumed (including bread, cereals, whisky and beer) - Jews who come from the Middle East, known as Sephardi Jews, will eat rice and pulses, but European Jews won't. The reason for eating no leavened food is to remember when the Israelites had to leave Egypt in a hurry and did not have time to prepare proper food for themselves - their bread did not rise in time and so was considered 'unleavened' and tasted more like crackers. This is symbolised on Pesach by eating Matzah - unleavened bread.

On the first two nights, a service known as a Seder (order) is held at home - this tells the story of the Passover and the Jewish exodus from Egypt, chronicled in a book called the Haggadah. The service is traditionally a relaxed affair - it is customary for those attending to lean to their left to show that they are no longer bound by the restrictions of slavery imposed by the Pharaoh of Egypt and may sit however they please. Four cups of wine are also drunk during the service, and a celebratory meal is eaten.

After the first two days, a four day period follows when normal work activities may be resumed, although leavened food is still forbidden. The final two days of the festival, like the first, are Yom Tovim. The festival finishes at sundown on the eighth day.

A great deal of preparation is required for Passover as not only are Jews not allowed to eat leavened food (known as chametz), they are not allowed to own it either, and must clear their houses of it before the festival begins. These days, people will get a rabbi to sell on their chametz for a token sum of money to a non-Jew, which can be redeemed after the festival is over. It is also customary to use different crockery, cutlery and cookware, which has not been used to cook foods containing chametz, for the duration of the festival.