Holidays & Events|March 11, 2012 1:22 PM

What is Passover?

The Jewish holiday of Passover, or Pesach to give it the Hebrew name, is one of the most significant festivals in the Jewish calendar.

The holiday itself lasts for eight days and begins on the fifteenth of the month of Nisan in the Jewish calendar, which falls in the spring.  The roots of Passover go all the way back to the Old Testament, to the book of Exodus, which tells the detailed story of the escape of the Israelites from slavery inEgypt.  It is commonly thought that the holiday derives its name, Passover, from the culmination of the story, in which the Egyptians are punished by God for their wickedness, while the Israelites are passed over for punishment.

The focal point of Pesach celebrations today is the first night of the holiday, known as Seder night.  Traditionally, the entire family gathers and tells the story of the Exodus, using a formula called the haggadah.  The Passover haggadah is an ancient text, which tells the story using a number of props, which are placed on a special decorative Seder plate.  For example, the family eats bitter herbs to represent the bitterness of slavery.  They also eat matzah, unleavened bread, which represents the idea that the Israelites were forced to leave Egyptin a hurry, without a chance to even bake bread for the journey.  In fact, it is traditional for Jews to refrain from eating bread for the entire duration of the festival.  The Seder also includes special Passover songs and activities to make Passover for children a fun experience.

For many Jewish people, Passover has taken on a wider meaning beyond simply a religious festival, as it has also come to represent the celebration of freedom over oppression in general.

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