The Passover Holiday
, is a Zionist holiday,
symbolizing national values. Passover is a spring holiday, a holiday of renewal and of freedom, and may actually have
replaced an older holiday of the vernal equinox. The story of Passover was taken up by the African slaves in the United
States, and became symbolic of deliverance from slavery by the might of the Lord.
The Passover holiday was also used by Jews in the United States to mark their
solidarity with the Civil Rights struggle. interfaith Seders were held and many
While the Temple was standing in Jerusalem, Jews celebrated Passover by coming there to
make the Passover sacrifice. A lamb was sacrificed to commemorate the blood of the lamb used to mark Jewish homes
against the plague.
The week of Passover opens with a festive ritual meal, called the
Seder (meaning "order") at which, originally, the Paschal lamb that was sacrificed was eaten.
The last supper of Jesus Christ was a Passover Seder, commemorated by Christians on Maundy Thursday during
Easter. Some Christians also celebrate the Passover with a Seder meal, but
it is often on a different date and with a different significance. Christians
who want to celebrate Passover out of solidarity with the Jewish people try to
celebrate it in the Jewish manner and on the correct date.
After the destruction of the temple, the Seder meal
evolved into an educational vehicle for teaching children not only about the
history of the holiday itself, but also about the fundamentals of their religion
and national identity. Accordingly, the Seder ritual includes passages of
history unrelated to the story of Passover, educational devices such as the four
questions asked by children (Ma Nishtana "Why is this night different from all other nights")
educational songs, and numerous references to the land of Israel and to Jerusalem. Jews give thanks to Lord for
providing the bountiful land of Israel, pray to the Lord to restore them to Zion and rebuild the temple in Jerusalem,
and conclude the Seder with the wish: Next Year in Jerusalem. In modern Israel, and especially in
Jerusalem, this wish is usually modified to "Next year in the Rebuilt Jerusalem."
The Seder ritual is contained in a book called the Haggadah (or Hagada). Haggadah
means "telling," from the Biblical injunction to "Tell thy son" of the deliverance from slavery in Egypt. The
Haggadah is written in Hebrew and Aramaic. The retelling of the Passover story each year serves to remind the Jewish people of
our national language, and the fact that the Haggadah is in Hebrew helped to keep alive and preserve the Hebrew
language. Formal and widely accepted written versions of the
Haggadah approximating its present form were apparently
first produced about 300 CE, though the first extant Haggadah is from the tenth
century. Over the years, many songs and customs have been added from different parts of the world,
and reflecting various circumstances of the Jewish exile. Though European (Ashkenazi) and Oriental (Sephardic) Jews were
separated by geography and culture, all Jews use nearly the same Haggadah. The version in use today is close to that of
Rav Amram Gaon, who headed the Babylonian (in what is now Iraq) Yeshiva (Talmudic academy) of Sura between 856-876 CE.
During the week of Passover, Jews eat only unleavened cracker-like bread (singular Matza,
plural Matzoth) made from special flour that has been stored so that no yeast cells or other leavening agents could get
into it. The Matzoth commemorate the unleavened bread that Jews had to bake in a hurry when leaving Egypt. Beer is
forbidden, as are any cakes or foods that might contain yeast. Wine and spirits are not forbidden. In fact, it is a
commandment to drink four cups of wine with the festive Passover meal, the
Modern connotations of Passover
In the United States, the story of
Passover and the exodus from slavery had a special significance for African slaves, and spirituals commemorated the
freeing of the slaves. The Seder in Jewish American homes often includes the chanting of spirituals. For the
Labor Zionist movement, Passover has special significance because of the issues of social justice and respect for
the lot of the oppressed. Some of the kibbutz movements, though not religious, produced their own Haggadot which retell
the story of Passover as a story of national liberation and national redemption. For all Zionists, the
pledge of "Next Year in Jerusalem"; and the dedication of the holiday to national freedom make it an important
See also Seder for a more detailed discussion.
Passover opens with a festive meal, the Seder, in which prayers, educational material, and
historical stories and songs are intermixed with the eating of ritual foods in a fixed order.
Matzah: Unleavened bread similar to a cracker described above.
'Haroseth: A sweet mixture of crushed nuts, apples, cinnamon, and honey, which
symbolizes the mortar the Hebrew slaves in Egypt used in constructing buildings for the Pharaoh. The initial 'H is
guttural, like the "H" in "Pesah." Anyone can prepare this simple and
Egg: A hard-boiled egg is used to symbolize life and rebirth.
Maror: This is usually very bitter horse-radish that symbolizes the hardships of
slavery (sometimes lettuce is substituted)!!!
Karpas: Usually a boiled potato (sometimes lettuce or another vegetable). The
symbolic meaning of this vegetable is not clear. Some say it symbolizes the lowly origins of the Jewish people.
Z'ro'a: This meat, sometimes represented as a shank bone, symbolizes the Paschal
Salt Water: The egg and the potato are dipped in salt water, symbolizing both the
tears of oppression as well as of joy in freedom.
The different foods are often
displayed on a special Seder plate.
The Seder Service and Meal
Following is an outline of the Seder service and meal. Some of the customs are explained
differently in different traditions, but all of them are part of the Haggadah for all Jews:
Kaddesh: Sanctification - This is a blessing
over wine in honor of the holiday. The wine is drunk, and a second cup is poured.
Rechatz: Washing - Ritual washing of the hands
without a blessing.
Karpas: Vegetable - A vegetable is dipped in
salt water and eaten. The vegetable symbolizes the lowly origins of the Jewish people; the salt water symbolizes the
tears shed as a result of our slavery.
Yachatz: Halving One of the three matzoth on
the table is broken. Part is returned to the pile, the other part is set aside for the afikomen (see below).
Maggid: The Story - A retelling of the story of
the Exodus from Egypt and the first Passover. This includes the youngest person asking The Four Questions, a set of
questions about the proceedings, answered by the adults. At the end of the maggid, a blessing is recited over the
second cup of wine and it is drunk.
Ritual eating - Symbolic foods are eaten with
appropriate blessings: Matza, Maror, and a sandwich composed of Matza, Maror and 'Haroset, following the custom of Rabbi
Shulhan Aruh: Dinner - The festive meal.
Tzafun: The Afikomen - The matzah set aside
earlier is eaten as "desert," the last food of the meal. Different families have different traditions relating to the
afikomen. Some have the children hide it, while the parents have to either find it or ransom it back. Others have the
parents hide it. The idea is to keep the children awake and attentive.
Barech: Grace after Meals - The third cup of
wine is poured, and grace after meals is recited. This is similar to the grace that would be said on any day. At the
end, a blessing is said over the third cup and it is drunk.
Elijah's Cup - The fourth cup
of wine is poured,
including a cup set aside for the prophet Elijah. The door is opened for a while
at this point. Supposedly, this custom was initiated during the
Inquisition, when Jews
celebrating Passover in secret opened the door to make sure that spies were not listening.
Hallel: Praises - Several psalms are recited. A
blessing is recited over the last cup of wine and it is drunk.
Nirtzah: Acceptance - A song stating that the
Seder has been executed and completed properly and hoping that it is acceptable is recited. It concludes with the
wish "Next Year in Jerusalem" or in Jerusalem, "Next year in rebuilt Jerusalem," referring to restoration of the temple
with the coming of the Messiah.
The text and detailed explanation of the Nirzah are given
The evening is ended with a number of songs or chants, modeled on medieval folk and
drinking songs that were apparently in existence at long ago as the 9th century.
More about Passover:
Ha Lachma Aniah,
More about Jewish Holidays
Adapted by permission from
The Story of Passover at
Middle East: Mideastweb Copyright by MidEastWeb for
Coexistence. Adaptations copyright by Zionism & Israel Center
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Keywords: Passover, Zionism, Pessah, Israel, Jews, Jewish Holidays