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Passover (Pesach)
Holiday of: Israel, Judaism, Jews and Christians
Name: Hebrew: פסח
Translation: "Pass/Skip-over"
Sacrifice Observed: Evening of 14th day of Nisan
Begins: 15th day of Nisan
Ends: 22nd (in Israel 21st) day of Nisan
Occasion: One of the Three Pilgrim Festivals. Celebrating the Exodus and freedom from slavery of the Children of Israel from ancient Egypt that followed the Ten plagues.

Beginning of the 49 days of Counting of the Omer.

Symbols (Jewish): Two festive Seder meals (in Israel only one), and reciting the Haggadah, eating of Matzah, drinking four cups of grape wine and filling the Cup of Elijah.
Symbols (Christian): A ceremony in which bread, representing the sacrificed body of Jesus Christ, is eaten, and wine, which represents "the new covenant in his blood," is drunk. Also may include a 'footwashing' ceremony, as a symbol of humility.
Related to: Shavuot ("Festival of Weeks", "Pentecost") which follows 49 days from the second night of Passover.


Passover, also known as Pesach or Pesah (פסח pesaḥ), is a Holy Day, observed by several religions, begining on the evening of the 14th day of Nisan and lasting seven days (in Israel and among some liberal Diaspora Jews, and eight days among other Diaspora Jews) that commemorates the exodus and freedom of the Israelites from Egypt; it is also observed by some Christians to commemorate the deliverance from sin by the sacrifice of Jesus.


Origins of the feast

Missing image
An image of a machine-made Matzo which is the "official" food of Passover.

The term Passover comes from the Bible, first mentioned in the Book of Exodus. It came into the English language through William Tyndale's translation of the Bible, and later appeared in the King James Version as well. As God pronounced to the people of Israel enslaved in Egypt that he would free them, he said he would "Smite all the firstborn in the land of Egypt." However, he instructed the Israelites to put a sign of lamb's blood on their door posts: "and when I see the blood, I will pass over you." (Exodus 12:13, King James Version) The original verb in the Hebrew Torah is posach. The noun form, pesach, also appears in that same chapter, in reference to that lamb, which was sacrificed earlier that day and then eaten on that night: "and ye shall eat it in haste: it is the Lord's passover." (Exodus 12:11, King James Version)

Although the term itself is not mentioned until the Book of Exodus, there are indications that at least parts of the feast were observed in earlier times. For example, in Genesis 19:3 reference is made to "unleavened bread" without any reason given for it. The scholar Maimonides leaves a short commentary on the end of the verse ("It was Passover" "פסח היה"), indicating that it wasn't necessarily a standard practice to prepare and eat unleavened bread, but that Lot was in a rush to serve the angels, and therefore did not have time to prepare proper, leavened bread.

The three main applicable groups of commandments associated with the holiday are: eating matzoh, or unleavened bread; the prohibition of eating any foods containing leavening during the holiday1); and the retelling of the Jews' miraculous exodus from ancient Egypt (Mitzrayyim). In ancient times (until today among the Samaritans) there was a fourth: the offering of a lamb in the evening on the 14th of the Hebrew month of Nisan (also known as Aviv) and the eating that night of the Passover sacrifice. The commandment of retelling the Exodus is fulfilled through a communal ritual called the seder, celebrated on the first two evenings of the holiday (in Israel, only on the first evening). Other customs associated with Passover include eating bitter herbs and other foods specified for the seder meal. While many reasons are given for eating matzoh, the Book of Exodus explains that it recalls the bread the Israelites ate at the time of the Exodus: in their rush to leave Egypt, they did not have time for the bread to rise.

Traditions and those who celebrate the Passover

There are many peoples throughout the world who celebrate the Passover feast. Jews have continued to celebrate it, and many Christian groups also celebrate the appointed Holy Days.

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

Modern Jewish customs

Before the holiday begins, observant Jews will remove and discard all food with leavening (called chametz) from their households. Although many do a thorough job, so that not even a crumb remains, the law only requires the elimination of olive-sized quantities of leavening from one's possesion. There is a custom to conduct a formal search for overlooked leavening, on the evening prior to the start of the holiday. This tradition is called bedikat chametz. Throughout the holiday, they will eat no leavened food, replacing breads, pastas, and cakes with matzoh and other specially prepared foods. The holiday is also preceded by the fast of the firstborn.

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 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 (derived from the Hebrew word for "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 in the seder prayer book, the Haggadah.

At the seder three matzohs are used. During the seder, the middle matzoh is broken in half. The smaller piece is returned to the set of matzohs while the larger piece is designated as the afikomen, or the dessert matzoh. Two distinct customs have arisen among some Jews 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, an adult hides the afikomen and the children look for it at the end of the meal. If the children find it, they receive a reward or ransom, as the seder cannot end until the afikomen is found.

During the seder, a platter called the "Seder Plate," covered with symbols of Passover, is placed at the center of the table in view of all. 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. There is a green, leafy vegetable (usually celery (Sephardic tradition) or parsley/lettuce (Ashkenazi tradition)) 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 a dish of "maror" or bitter herbs which represent the bitterness of slavery.

Another tradition during the seder ceremony is recalling the Four Sons: the Wise son, the Wicked son, the Simple son, and the son who does not know enough to inquire. According to some, these sons represent the different types of Jews, as follows. The Wise son is the learned Jew. The Wicked son is the Jew that mocks his religion. The Simple son is the Jew that is unlearned. The fourth son is the Jew so unfamiliar with his heritage and traditions that he cannot relate to the subject without personal attention.

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 (Breaking the middle matzoh which becomes the Afikomen)
  • Maggid מגיד (Telling of the Passover story, including reciting the Four Questions)
  • 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 Aruch שולחן עורך (Dinner is served; lit., "prepared table")
  • Tzafun צפון (Eating of the Afikomen)
  • Barech ברך (After dinner blessing and wine; in Ashkenazi families: welcoming of Elijah the Prophet)
  • Hallel הלל (Song singing, more wine)
  • Nirtzah נירצה (Conclusion)

Christian Passover

The New Testament of the Bible depicts Jesus as the culmination of the Passover Lamb of God; therefore, some Christians continue to celebrate the Passover at its appointed time, but with different meaning. As it is recorded in the New Testament, Jesus has become the sacrificed Passover Lamb (1 Corinthians 5:7). As it commemorates the Israelites' physical deliverance from bondage in Egypt, Passover for some Christians represents a spiritual deliverance from the slavery of sin and is memorial of the sacrifice that Jesus has made for mankind.

Although observances differ between groups of Christian believers, many follow the instructions that Jesus gave to his disciples at the time of his Last Supper before he was crucified. Unleavened bread is used to represent Jesus' body (Eastern Christianity insists on leavened bread, though), and wine represents his blood and the New Covenant. These are a symbolic substitute for Jesus as the true sacrificial Passover "Lamb of God." Some people also add the ceremony of washing one another's feet, as Jesus did to his disciples the night before his suffering.

In the second century, the Church at Rome began celebrating the day of Jesus' resurrection on the Sunday following the Passover of the 14th of Nisan. The observance grew in importance for the majority of Christians, eventually overshadowing and then displacing the Apostolic Passover tradition (as referred to by the bishop of Smyrna, Polycarp). The new celebration became known by the non-christian title of Easter (though it still bears a name derived from "Passover" in many languages).

Some differences between observing groups are: some observe the celebration on the night before Passover, at the same time that Jesus held his Last Supper, while others observe it at the same time that the Passover was sacrificed, that is, the time of Jesus' death, which occurred "at the ninth hour" of the day (Matthew 27:46-50, Mark 15:34-37, Luke 23:44-46), or approximately 3:30 pm (see evening and Time for technical reference on time).

Gregorian dates

Jewish year Starting at sunset Ending at nightfall
5764 5 April 2004 13 April 2004
5765 23 April 2005 1 May 2005
5766 12 April 2006 20 April 2006
5767 2 April 2007 10 April 2007
5768 19 April 2008 27 April 2008

See also

  • Note 1: The restriction is against consumption of any chometz (Exodus 13:3). Chometz is any of the five grains (wheat, spelt, barley, oats, and rye) that have come into contact with water for more than 18 minutes. Ashkenazi Jews (generally of Eastern European origin) also included legumes (rice, corn, soy beans, string beans, peas, lentils, peanuts, mustard, sesame seeds and poppy seeds) as restricted items for Passover. However, the Conservative Rabbinical Assembly of Israel has ruled ( that it is permitted (and perhaps even obligatory) to eliminate this custom.


de:Pessach eo:Pesaĥo es:Pascua fa:پسح fr:Pessa'h he:פסח ja:過越 la:Pascha nl:Pesach nn:Pesah pl:Pascha (święto żydowskie) pt:Pessach sv:Pesach


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