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Passover 101

matzaThose who are not Jewish might have some difficulty trying to understand what Passover is. It seemed like a good idea to put together a quick “Passover 101” that people can easily share with confused (but well meaning) friends and neighbors. Instead of explaining it over and over again, you can simply send them the link to this simplified description.

Passover is an eight-day festival that is celebrated in early spring. It begins on the 15th and ends on the 22nd day of the Hebrew month of Nissan. The coinciding secular dates will not be the same every year.

There is a website you can check to determine when this year’s Passover will take place (and to see what dates it will fall on in upcoming years.) Check with Chabad.org. Jewish holidays observances begin at sundown on the secular dates. The following day is considered to be the first full day of the holiday.

Passover is the English word for the holiday. People who are Jewish call it Pesach, which comes from the Hebrew word that means “to pass through, to pass over, to exempt, or to spare”. It refers to the fact that G-d “passed over” the houses of the Jews when he was slaying the firstborn in Egypt.

Pesach commemorates the emancipation of the Israelites from slavery in ancient Egypt (in short). Following the rituals of Pesach enables Jewish people of today to relive and experience the freedom that their ancestors gained long ago.

There are many laws, customs, and observances that are part of Pesach. One of the most significant is the avoidance of chametz. Chametz means leavened grain. This custom is done to commemorate the unleavened bread that that Israelites ate when they left Egypt.

The avoidance of chametz goes further than just “don’t eat bread”. All foods and drinks that contain even a trace of wheat, barley, rye, oats, spelt, or their derivatives must be avoided. People who are celebrating Pesach are not supposed to have foods or drinks that contain wheat in their possession during the holiday. The exception is for foods that have been specifically certified as “safe” (and unleavened).

Part of the custom regarding chametz includes cleaning. The idea is to remove every crumb of bread from the area in your home where people prepare, cook, and serve food. This is done to avoid accidental ingestion of chametz during Pesach. Some will make the cleaning an intense process, much like spring cleaning. Others will focus on the kitchen, and remove chemetz that is the size of a slice of bread (or larger) from other rooms in the house.

Image by Ron Almog on Flickr.