Many people have heard the name of the Jewish holiday Passover, but many don’t know what it is really about.
Passover is one of the most important holidays in Judaism. While “The Last Supper” painting by Leonardo Da Vinci is popularly known, it is not commonly known that in the painting, Jesus and his apostles are having a Passover seder.
In Hebrew, the word “seder” means order, and as my mom explained to our non-Jewish guests at my family’s seder, “it is a dinner done in a specific order, and it is important to follow the meal’s intended order.”
Traditionally, the holiday lasts eight days–seven in Reform Judaism and seven in Israel– but a seder is typically only held on the first two nights of Passover. This year, Passover began after the sunset on March 30 and ends after the sunset on April 7. The way that this holiday is observed is through a course of strict dietary restrictions.
Judaism has a set of extensive dietary rules called Kashrut, and during Passover, these rules remain in place and significantly more rules are added on. The foods Jewish people are prohibited from eating during Passover, as Toriavey.com explains, are what is labeled as “chametz,” meaning leaven grains. “All Jews,” Tori Avey says, “both Sephardic and Ashkenazi, prohibit the eating of chametz during Passover as directed in the Torah. Chametz includes any food product or recipe made with the following grains: wheat, oats, rye, barley and spelt.”
Chametz is prohibited because these grains have had contact with water or moisture for longer than 18 minutes, which means that they have in some way risen or leavened. Leavening agents, like yeast and sourdough, are also considered chametz.
Ashkenazi (European) Jews also have the tradition of not eating food that is considered “kitniyot,” which is the Hebrew word for legumes. Foods that are considered kitniyot include: lentils and dried beans, chickpeas, rice, millet, peanuts, soybeans, green beans, mustard, corn, sunflower and poppy seeds, peas and sesame seeds.
Oukosher.org explains that the reason Ashkenazi Jews do not consume kitniyot is because “An Ashkenazic minhag [meaning custom] developed in the middle ages to not eat certain foods known collectively as ‘kitniyot’. The Mishnah Berurah (453:6 & 464:5) cites three reasons for the minhag, (a) kitniyot is harvested and processed in the same manner as chametz, (b) it is ground into flour and baked just like chametz [so people may mistakenly believe that if they can eat kitniyot, they can also eat chametz] and ( c ), it may have chametz grains mixed into it [so people who eat kitniyot may inadvertently be eating chametz]. Although initially, there were those who objected to the minhag, it has become an accepted part of Pesach [meaning Passover] in all Ashkenazic communities.”
Sephardic (Spanish and North African Jews), however, are allowed to eat kitniyot during Passover.
These rules are related to the story of Jews’ liberation from slavery in Exodus, for which the Passover holiday is derived.
In Exodus, it is told that Jews were slaves in Egypt, and that when they fled Egypt, the bread that they were baking did not have time to rise. It is for this reason, then, that Jews do not eat leavened bread during Passover. The unleavened bread that Jews do eat during Passover, is matzah.
During a seder, there is plate called a seder plate with five to six slots for food that each gets a symbolic designation related to the story of Exodus and Jews’ liberation from slavery.
At my seder, we had lasagna that is kosher for Passover, made from matzah rather than noodles, and potato kugel, which is similar to a potato casserole.
Passover happens around Easter every year. In the case of this year, Easter was on the second day of Passover. Easter and Passover are the only Jewish and Christian holidays to consistently happen around the same time. Which is why they are both considered spring holidays.
Coming up on April 4, UNCG’s Hillel is having a matzah pizza event in honor of the holiday.