A Beginners Guide to Passover

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What is Passover?

Passover is an important Jewish festival commemorating the liberation of Israelites from Egyptian slavery, some 1300 years ago. The Hebrew name for Passover is Pesach. The festival is steeped in tradition and fascinating rituals.

When is Passover?

As with all Jewish festivals, Passover starts on the evening before the first full day of the festival. Passover usually falls around March or April. The date for this year is at the top of this page.

What is the story of Passover?

The story of Passover is told in the Book of Exodus, part of the Old Testament. The people of Israel had been kept as slaves by the Egyptians for hundreds of years. God was displeased with their treatment and sent Moses to call upon the Egyptian Pharaoh to release the Israelites. Pharaoh refused, and so God sent 10 plagues, each of which would only affect the Egyptians and not the people of Israel. The plagues included turning the River Nile into blood, infestations of frogs & lice, death of livestock and torrential hailstorms. The tenth plague was to be the arrival of the Avenging Angel to kill the first born child of every family. Following the orders of God, Moses instructed all Israelites to sacrifice a lamb, and place it’s blood around their door frames. Seeing the blood, the Angel would “Passover” their house. Realising resistance was futile, Pharoh ordered Moses to lead the Isrealites out of Egypt to the Promised Land.

How is Passover celebrated?

Passover celebrations last for around 8 days, and is full of tradition. The house is cleared of chametz (leaven, food made of specific grains and water, and allowed to rise). On the first evening, a ritual service called a Sedar (meaning order) is performed. This includes a meal containing 6 foods, each with a symbolic meaning relating to the story of the exodus from Egypt. Also on the table is unleavened bread (called Matzo), commemorating the Jews leaving Egypt in such haste they didn’t have time to allow their bread to rise. A traditional game, pieces of Matzo are hidden for children to seek out. The story of Passover is retold over the evening in an interactive manner, with songs and participation by children.