What is Pessah, the Jewish Passover?

What is Pessah, the Jewish Passover?

Passover is the most important religious holiday for Jews. This year, Passover takes place from Monday April 22, 2024 to Tuesday April 30, 2024.

Pessah or Passover is the key moment of the Hebrew religious calendar which commemorates the flight of the Hebrews from Egypt with Moses. Passover takes place from Nissan 14 at nightfall and for a duration of 7 to 8 days, which corresponds, depending on the year, to the end of March or April of the Gregorian calendar. Passover ushers in spring and the annual agricultural cycle. In ancient times, the Passover festival was the occasion for pilgrimages to the Temple in Jerusalem (Exodus 2, 14-17).

The term “Passover” comes from the Hebrew “pessah” which means “to pass over”. A reminder of the tenth plague of Egypt when God brought death upon all the firstborn of Egypt, except the Jewish babies (Exodus 12, 29-36). A traditional rite at the crossroads between religion and identity, with its codes and symbols.

What meal is served during Passover?

The meal served during Passover is called the seder. It is the great Jewish Passover meal. Jewish families gather around the table to read the Haggada (a story recounting the Israelites' flight from Egypt) then share a very codified feast. “Everyone experiences it in their own way, without being moral,” explains Rabbi Floriane Chinsky of Judaism on the Move.

Celebrated at nightfall, as prescribed by the Torah (the Hebrew Bible), the seder follows fifteen immutable stages, combining food, worship and symbolism, which aim to progress towards freedom.

Before beginning the feast, the Jews perform blessings. It is there that the master of the house recites the Kiddush prayer, a glass of wine in hand. Then comes the pre-meal rites: vegetables are placed in salty and bitter water (symbol of the tears shed by the Hebrews in Egypt) and the matzah (an unleavened unleavened bread) is broken in two on a platter. , in the center of the table. This is followed by a reading of the Haggadah, other prayers and finally the tasting of bitter herbs with matzah in the form of a sandwich. Finally, a time of praise to God initiates the long-awaited feast. This ritual organization precedes the tasting of the stuffed lamb.

Conviviality is the key word. “What's interesting about Passover is eating,” says Rabbi Floriane Chinsky, “reflecting on oneself, praying. (…) Pessah is a very convivial celebration.” Likewise, this Jewish festivity can be a good time to reflect, around a meal, on freedom: how to protect it, no longer “be neither master nor slave” and be resilient. And remember the centuries of slavery in Egypt, paying tribute to the liberation of the Jewish people.

Before the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem by the Roman Emperor Titus in AD 70, the seder was distinguished by the sacrifice of a lamb. A form of Easter offering.

Why don't we eat leaven during Passover?

Who says Pessah says hunt for leaven in homes. As the festivities approach, believers engage in a major spring cleaning. It’s time to “remove the leaven” because “all the grain is leaving.” Thus, a few weeks before Passover, the Jews get rid of Hamets, the grain that has risen. Bread, cakes and alcoholic drinks obtained by the fermentation of various cereals (rye, barley, wheat, spelt and oats) are thrown away, and sometimes even burned. On Nissan 13 (the day before the start of Passover), families replace leaven with unleavened bread, a symbol of humble submission to God. This allows Jews to better prepare and purify themselves before the holiday.

For Floriane Chinsky, it's a good way to break away from everyday life. “We’re starting from scratch. We break our psychological and emotional attitudes with something concrete through food.” It is customary to clean the interior in every nook and cranny, so that the house is as immaculate as possible. The kitchen and its utensils must also be pure. They are to be kashered in particular by boiling (the hag'ala) or by fire (the liboun).

At Passover, “acting and thinking are inseparable,” concludes the rabbi.

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