Passover 2011 (english)
Passover will take place this year between sunset on Monday 18 April, and sunset on Monday 25 April. The first and last days of Passover – Tuesday 19 April and Monday 25 April – are legal holidays in Israel. Passover marks the exodus of the Jewish people from Egypt, from slavery to freedom. Jews are commanded to tell the story as if it had happened to them personally and not as a mere historical event, in order to emphasize the importance of our hard-won and precious freedom.
Preparations for Passover
The period preceding Passover is marked by extensive preparations and several special ceremonies. The most important of these concerns the removal of hametz, i.e. any food product that contains leavened wheat, oat, barley, rye, or spelt products. In keeping with the Biblical command in Exodus 12:19 and 13:7, Jews will, before Passover, thoroughly clean their homes to remove any crumbs or bits of food, etc. that may be hametz. This cleaning culminates in a ritual candlelight search for hametz in one’s home, accompanied by a special blessing and the renunciation of formal ownership over any remaining hametz. The hametz collected during the search is then burned on the morning before Passover. It is also customary to sell one’s hametz to a non-Jew – usually by authorizing a rabbi to act as an agent for the sale – as a supplementary measure. While certain types of dishes and utensils can be made kosher for Passover, many Jews will have separate sets of dishes and utensils solely for use during Passover.
In the absence of leaven, Jews will eat specially prepared unleavened bread, or matzah, on Passover. Many Jews will also eat products made with matzah „flour“ – unleavened bread that has been finely ground. Matzah dates back to the Exodus, where the Jews, not having had time to wait for dough to rise before leaving Egypt, journeyed into the desert with unleavened bread.
First-born males over 13 are required to fast on the day before Passover – in commemoration of the fact that first-born Jewish males were spared when first-born Egyptian males were killed during the tenth plague – but may be released of this obligation by participating in a special festive meal, such as accompanies the conclusion of study of a tractate of the Talmud or a circumcision, on the morning before Passover.
The Sabbath before Passover – 16 April this year – is known as “the Great Sabbath,” and was marked by a special reading from Malachi 3:4-24. In the afternoon, it is traditional for rabbis to give special sermons, usually on the laws associated with Passover.
The Seder and the First Day of Passover
On the evening of Monday 18 April, after festive evening prayers, families will eat a special ceremonial meal known as the seder, which commemorates the Exodus from Egypt. The guide for the seder is detailed in a book known as the Haggadah, literally „narration,“ which relates the story of the Exodus from Egypt. A plate placed on the seder table contains several special foods: a roasted egg, symbolizing the special sacrifices which were brought in the Temple; a roasted shank bone, recalling the special Passover lamb offered and eaten in Temple times; a mixture of chopped apples, nuts, wine and cinnamon known as haroset, symbolizing the mortar that the Hebrew slaves in Egypt used to make bricks; sprigs of parsley and lettuce, symbolizing spring; a bitter herb symbolizing the bitterness of slavery; and salt water, recalling the tears shed by the Hebrew slaves in Egypt. Three sheets of matzah – marking the division of the Jewish people into priests (cohanim), Levites and the general population – are also placed on the table.
During the course of the seder, the Ten Plagues are recalled. When each of the Plagues is mentioned, each participant dips a finger into his/her cup of wine and removes a drop; even though the Jews were oppressed in Egypt, we are reminded that we must not rejoice over the Egyptians‘ suffering. Our cups of wine cannot thus be full.
One of the more popular seder customs for children concerns the afikoman, a special piece of matzah that is the last food eaten during the seder. The head of the household customarily hides the afikoman somewhere in the house, and the children then search for it. Once found, the afikoman is „ransomed,“ since the seder cannot continue until the afikoman is eaten. This helps to keep the children focused on the seder and to pique their curiosity regarding the entire Passover epic.
On the morning of Tuesday 19 April, festive prayers, including a prayer for dew during the spring and summer, and special readings, will figure prominently in synagogue services.
Tuesday, 19 April is a full public holiday, i.e. there is no public transportation or newspapers, and shops will be closed.
The Intermediate Days of Passover
While the intermediate days of Passover (this year from sunset on Tuesday 19 April until sunset on Sunday, 24 April) are not full public holidays, special prayers and readings are recited in the synagogue. Schools will remain closed, as will many businesses. Post offices and banks will be open, but will have reduced hours. Newspapers will be published.
Jewish tradition maintains that the parting of the Red Sea and the destruction of the Egyptian army occurred on the seventh day of Passover, but even though Passover celebrates the Exodus from Egypt, Jews nevertheless do not rejoice over the death of the Egyptians in the sea and only an abridged version of Hallel (Psalms 113-118) – a holiday prayer – is recited after the first day of Passover.
On the Sabbath of the intermediate days of Passover (Saturday 23 April), the day’s special readings will include the Song of Songs and Ezekiel’s vision of the valley of dry bones (Ezekiel 37:1-14).
From the evening of Monday 25 April, Jews will keep a nightly count of the 49 days (seven weeks), until the evening of Monday 6 June, one day before the holiday of Shavuot. This count commemorates the Temple offering of the omer, or sheaf of new grain, in keeping with the Biblical injunction of Leviticus 23:15-16.
The Seventh Day of Passover
The celebration of the seventh day of Passover as a full holiday is specified in Exodus 12:16 and Leviticus 23:8. This year, the seventh day begins at sunset on Sunday, 24 April, lasting until sunset on Monday 25 April. On Monday morning, there will be festive services and readings in synagogues; special memorial prayers for the departed will also be said.
Monday, 25 April is a full public holiday, i.e. there is no public transportation or newspapers, and shops will be closed.
Maimouna – an informal, yet widely celebrated holiday which originated among the Jews of North Africa, particularly those from Morocco – will be celebrated immediately after Passover, from sunset on Monday 25 April, until sunset on Tuesday 26 April. According to custom, families prepare elaborate tables with various sweets and baked goods, and host friends and family members. Whole neighborhoods often close as celebrations spill out into the streets and parks.
(Communicated by the GPO)
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