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PASSOVER (Heb. פֶּסַח, Pesah), a spring festival, beginning on the 15th day of Nisan, lasting seven days in Israel and eight in the Diaspora. It commemorates the Exodus from Egypt. The first and seventh days (the first two and last two in the Diaspora) are yom tov (a "festival" on which work is prohibited), and the other days ḥol ha-mo'ed ("intermediate days" on which work is permitted).

Names and History

The biblical names for the festival are: ḥag ha-Pesaḥ ("the feast of the Passover," Ex. 34:25), so called because God "passed over" (or "protected") the houses of the children of Israel (Ex. 12:23), and ḥag ha-Maẓẓot ("the feast of Unleavened Bread"; Ex. 23:15; Lev. 23:6; Deut. 16:16). Pesaḥ is the paschal lamb, offered as a sacrifice on the eve of the feast (14th Nisan) in Temple times; it was eaten in family groups after having been roasted whole (Ex. 12:1–28, 43–49; Deut. 16:1–8). A person who was unable (because of ritual impurity or great distance from the Sanctuary) to keep the "first Passover" could keep it a month later – Pesaḥ Sheni ("the Second Passover," also called "Minor Passover," Num. 9:1–14).

According to tradition, the Passover rites were divinely ordained as a permanent reminder of God's deliverance of His people from Egyptian bondage. The critical view points to two distinct festivals in the Bible; the feast of unleavened bread, a pastoral feast, and the Passover, an agricultural feast (see below).

In the Book of Joshua (5:10–11), it is said that the Israelites led by Joshua kept the feast at Gilgal. The Book of Kings relates that Passover was kept with special solemnity in King Josiah's reign in the seventh century B.C.E.: "The king commanded all the people, saying: 'Keep the Passover unto the Lord your God, as it is written in this book of the covenant. For there was not kept such a Passover from the days of the judges that judged Israel, nor in all the days of the kings of Israel, nor of the kings of Judah; but in the eighteenth year of King Josiah was this Passover kept to the Lord in Jerusalem'" (II Kings 23:21–23).

As far as can be ascertained, the Passover festival was kept throughout the period of the Second Temple. Josephus records contemporary Passover celebrations in which he estimates that the participants who gathered in Jerusalem to perform the sacrifice in the year 65 C.E., were "not less than three millions" (Jos., Wars, 2:280). The Talmud (Pes. 64b) similarly records: "King Agrippa once wished to take a census of the hosts of Israel. He said to the high priest, 'Cast your eyes on the Passover offerings.' He took a kidney from each, and 600,000 pairs of kidneys were found there, twice as many as those who departed from Egypt, excluding those who were unclean and those who were on a distant journey; and there was not a single paschal lamb for which more than ten people had not registered; and they called it: 'The Passover of the dense throngs.'" Allowing for hyperbole, the account of immense crowds assembled to offer the paschal lamb cannot be too far from historical reality.

The Samaritans considered all the biblical rules regarding the sacrifice of the lamb in Egypt (Ex. 12) to be applicable for all time. The practice, as recorded in the Mishnah (Pes. 9:5), is that only Pesaḥ Miẓrayim ("Passover of Egypt") required the setting aside of the lamb four days before the festival, the sprinkling of the blood on lintel and doorposts, and that the lamb be eaten in "haste." The Mishnah (Pes. 10:5) explains the commands of the lamb sacrifice and the eating of *matzah ("unleavened bread") and maror ("bitter herbs") as follows: the lamb is offered because God "passed over" (pasaḥ); the unleavened bread is eaten because God redeemed the Israelites from Egypt (Ex. 12:39); and the bitter herbs, because the Egyptians embittered their lives (Ex. 1:14).

With the destruction of the Temple, the offering of the paschal lamb came to an end, although it is possible that for a time the sacrifice was continued in modified form in some circles (Guttman, in: HUCA, 38 (1967), 137–48). The other rites and ceremonies of the Passover festival continued as before. The Samaritans, however, still sacrifice the paschal lamb in a special ceremony on Mt. Gerizim near Shechem. The Last Supper, mentioned in the New Testament (Mark 14, Matt. 26, Luke 22), may be the seder meal. Early Christians observed Easter on Passover and Roman Christians on the Sunday after Passover. Later the *blood libel against Jews was frequently connected with the Passover festival.

The Seder

The special home ceremony on the first night of Passover, the seder ("order"; pl. sedarim), is based on the injunction to parents to inform their children of the deliverance from Egypt: "And thou shalt tell thy son in that day, saying: It is because of that which the Lord did for me when I came forth out of Egypt" (Ex. 13:8). The Mishnah (Pes. 10:4) gives a formula of four questions (see *Mah Nishtannah which are asked by the child and to which the father replies "according to the son's intelligence." During the Middle Ages a special order of service for the seder was adapted with a formal reply to the questions (culled from various rabbinic sources), and with supplementary material such as table hymns and jingles calculated to appeal to children. These are recorded in the Passover *Haggadah. The Mishnah (Pes. 10:1) rules that even the poorest man in Israel must not eat on the first night of Passover unless he reclines. In mishnaic times, free men would normally recline at meals, and on this night all must demonstrate that they are free. In the Middle Ages, in many communities the custom of reclining at meals during the year was abandoned, but it became a duty to recline at the seder. During the seder, one must partake of four cups (*arba kosot) of wine (Pes. 10:1). These were interpreted symbolically as corresponding to the four expressions of redemption in the Book of Exodus (6:6–7), or the four cups mentioned in the Book of Genesis (40:11–13) in connection with the dream of the chief butler (TJ, Pes. 10:1, 37c).

On the seder table are the following items: three (in some rites two) cakes of maẓẓot placed one on top of the other; a roasted egg and shankbone or other bone (as reminders of the paschal lamb and the festival offering in Temple times); a dish of salt water (for "dipping" and as a symbol of the Israelites' tears); *maror such as lettuce (or horseradish) for "dipping"; and *ḥaroset ("clay"), a paste made from almonds, apples, and wine (Pes. 10:3) for the purpose of sweetening the bitter herbs, and as a symbol of the mortar the Israelites used when building under the lash of their taskmasters.

The seder follows this standard order:

(1) kaddesh ("sanctification"): the festival is introduced by the Kiddush benediction in which God is praised for giving the festivals to Israel;

(2) reḥaẓ ("wash"): the hands are washed in accordance with the ancient practice of ritual purification before partaking of anything dipped in liquid;

(3) karpas ("greens"): the parsley is dipped in salt water;

(4) yaḥaẓ ("division"): the middle matzah is broken in two and one half is hidden. This latter portion is known as the *afikoman ("the after-meal") and is eaten at the end of the meal, as a reminder of the paschal lamb which was eaten at the end so that its taste would remain in the mouth. It is customary for children to look for the afikoman, a prize being given to the successful finder;

(5) maggid ("recitation"): the Haggadah is recited;

(6) raḥzaḥ ("washing"): the ritual washing of the hands before breaking bread;

(7) moẓi ("bringing forth"): Grace before Meals is recited: "Blessed art Thou… who bringest forth [ha-moẓi] bread…";

(8) matzah: pieces of the top matzah and the broken middle one are eaten;

(9) maror: the bitter herbs are dipped in the ḥaroset and eaten;

(10) korekh ("binding"): a sandwich is made of pieces of the bottom matzah and bitter herbs and eaten. This is a reminder of Hillel's practice in Temple times, based on the verse: "They shall eat it [the paschal lamb] with unleavened bread and bitter herbs" (Num. 9:11);

(11) shulḥan arukh ("prepared table"): the festive meal is eaten;

(12) ẓafun ("hidden"): the afikoman is found and eaten;

(13) barekh ("blessing"): Grace after Meals is recited;

(14) Hallel ("psalms of praise"): Psalms 115–8 are recited. It was customary in Temple times to recite these psalms at the time of the offering of the paschal lamb (Pes. 5:7);

(15) nirẓah ("acceptance").

It is customary to have on the seder table a full cup of wine known as "*Elijah's cup." Reflections on past deliverance awaken hope for the final redemption, and Elijah, being the herald of the Messiah (Mal. 3:23), is welcomed; toward the end of the seder, the front door of the house is opened to demonstrate that this is a "night of watching" (Ex. 12:42) on which Israel knows no fear. In the Diaspora the seder is repeated on the second night. On the second night of Passover the counting of the *omer is begun. The laws of Passover in the Talmud occur in the talmudic tractate *Pesaḥim. In the United States several additional prayers have been suggested by different groups. These include a prayer on behalf of the Holocaust victims, one for Russian Jewry, and a prayer of thanksgiving for the State of Israel, usually combined with a fifth cup of wine.

The Laws and Customs of Passover

No ḥameẓ ("leaven") is to be found in the house or owned during Passover (Ex. 12:15, 19). On the night before the festival, the house is thoroughly searched for ḥameẓ (Pes. 1:1). All leaven found in the house is gathered together in one place and burned on the following day before noon (see *Bedikat Ḥameẓ (*Ḥamez, Sale of).

According to rabbinic authorities, the obligation to eat matzah applies only to the first night (Pes. 120a); it is customary, therefore, to prepare special matzot, the wheat of which has been under observation from the time of reaping or grinding (matzah shemurah), for it. During the remainder of the festival, though leaven may not be eaten, there is no obligation to eat matzah. Some rabbinic authorities were opposed to the use of matzot baked by machine.

Utensils in which leaven has been cooked, baked, or boiled must be specially treated before they can be used on Passover. The method is to immerse them in a caldron of boiling water, or, if they are utensils used on a fire, to heat them in a fire until they glow. However, not all vessels can be treated so. Unlike other forbidden food which becomes neutralized and may be eaten if mixed in 60 times its bulk, on Passover, the smallest admixture of ḥameẓ is enough to render a dish forbidden (see *Dietary Laws).

On the first day of Passover in the synagogue, a special prayer for dew (tal) is recited and the phrase morid ha-geshem is not said. On the Sabbath of Passover, the Song of Songs is read in the synagogue (Ashkenazi rite). Full *Hallel is recited on the first day (two days in the Diaspora) and half-Hallel the rest of the festival. On the last day *Hazkarat Neshamot is recited. When the liturgy refers to the festival, it does so as "the period of our freedom." Ḥerut ("freedom"), is, in fact, the dominant note of Passover.


P. Goodman, The Passover Anthology (1961), incl. bibl.; I. Levy, A Guide to Passover (1958); M.M. Kasher, Haggadah Shelemah (19673); J.B. Segal, The Hebrew Passover (1963); Schauss, Guide of Jewish Holy Days (19664), 38–85; T. Gaster, Passover: Its History and Traditions (1949); S.J. Zevin, Ha-Mo'adim ba-Halakhah (196310), 215–91. CRITICAL VIEW: F. Horst, Das Privilegrecht Jahres… (1930), 81ff.; L. Rost, in: ZDPV, 66 (1943), 205–16; J. Jeremias, in: Theologisches Woerterbuch zum Neuen Testament, 5 (1954), 895–903; A. Jaubert, La date de la Cène (1957); E. Auerbach, in: VT, 8 (1958), 1–18; E. Kutsch, in: Zeitschrift fuer Theologie und Kirche, 55 (1958), 1–35; H. Haag, in: Dictionnaire de la Bible, Suppléments, 6 (1960), 1120–49; H. Wildberger, Jahwes Eigentumsvolk (1960); H.-J. Kraus, Gottesdienst in Israel… (19622); J.A. Soggin, in: VT Supplement, 15 (1966), 263–77; P. Grelot, in: VT, 17 (1967), 201–7; A.B. Ehrlich, Randglossen zur hebraeischen Bibel, 1 (1968), 312–3. IN THE ARTS: Mayer, Art, index. ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: E.M. Broner with N. Nimrod, The Telling (1993); T.R. Cohen, The Journey Continues: The Ma'yan Passover Haggadah (2002); S.C. Anisfeld, T. Mohr, and C. Spector (eds.), The Women's Passover Companion (2003); idem, The Women's Seder Sourcebook (2003); R.A. Rabbinowicz, (ed.), Passover Haggadah: The Feast of Freedom (1982).

Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.