An Introduction to the Jewish Passover Festival

Passover meal atl10trader via Creative Commons at
atl10trader/Creative Commons

The Passover festival is one of the most important events in the Jewish calendar, and while the country of Israel will often see the largest events to mark the festival because there is a Jewish population to be found throughout the world, Passover is celebrated worldwide. The name of the festival itself comes from the tenth plague that struck the Egyptians in the Hebrew Bible, when the first-born sons of every house died, except for those whose doorposts were marked with the blood of a lamb, for whom the punishment was passed over.

There are a lot of different traditions that are now associated with the festival, and it is a period of great significance for the Jewish people.

Why Is the Festival Celebrated?

The origin of the festival is that it marks the events that were discussed in the Book of Exodus where Moses led the Israelites away from their slavery in Egypt. In order to free the Israelites from the yoke of their Egyptian owners, it is said that ten plagues were sent to beset the Egyptian people with the final one being the death of the firstborn, which is when the Pharaoh finally released these people from their slavery. One of the stories is that the Israelites left Egypt so quickly that the bread on that day did not have time to rise, which is why no leavened bread is eaten during the festival.

When Does Passover Take Place?

Passover is a festival which normally falls in the Spring, but as this is decided by the Jewish calendar rather than the Gregorian calendar, it means this can vary and will usually be either in March or April. In Israel itself, the Passover is a seven day festival with the first and the last days being public holidays, although there are other areas of the Jewish faith which celebrate this as an eight-day event. In the Jewish calendar, it begins on the fifteenth day of Nisan. 

The Removal of Chametz During The Festival

Chametz is the Hebrew word for leavening, and in preparation for the Passover festival all leavened goods and leavening, defined as five types of grain that may lead to fermentation are removed from the home. While the religious law does allow for small amounts to remain, most homes will be thoroughly cleaned and worktops wiped down to ensure that there is as little as possible remaining. Many people will also put any utensils or crockery that comes into contact with these grains regularly away for the duration of Passover.

Traditional Food and Drink During Passover

The most iconic food of all during Passover is unleavened bread, known as matzo, and this can be softened in milk or water, or can even be cooked into a kugel for a family meal. Some families will enjoy chicken or lamb accompanied by spring green vegetables such as peas and artichokes, while Charoset is another dish that is made by mixing fresh or dried fruits with nuts, honey, spice, and wine. Because of the importance of matzo during the Passover festival, many people will avoid it during the month before Passover itself.

Other Passover Traditions

One of the most important parts of the festival is the sacrifice, and historically those who had families large enough to consume a lamb would sacrifice that lamb during the afternoon and then using that lamb for the meal in the evening. The first and last days of the festival are public holidays in Israel, and it is traditional that people will not work during these two days, and many people will spend much of these days in prayer or with family and friends marking the festival.