Purim is considered a religious holiday

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The release from slavery and the exodus from Egypt are commemorated on Passover

The first of the three pilgrimage festivals, the Passoverfestival, which is also referred to in the Bible as the festival of Mazzot (singular: Mazza), the unleavened bread. The name Passover (Exceeding) comes from the commandment of the Bible to sacrifice a lamb that was slaughtered and eaten before the Israelites left Egypt. The Bible text (2 Book of Moses, 12:27) says that when God slew all the firstborn in Egypt, he spared the Israelites by overriding their houses. Hence this festival is called the transgression; the sacrificed lamb is also referred to by this name.

Agricultural importance

Like all pilgrimage festivals, Passover has a historical and a nature-related meaning. Historically, the festival commemorates the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt, and even today only unleavened food is eaten in memory of this event, because the sudden departure from Egypt did not allow the bread dough to be leavened before baking. In agricultural terms it is Passover associated with harvesting winter barley.

Many foods are forbidden

Passover is celebrated for eight days, from the 15th to the 22nd Nissan (in Israel until the 21st Nissan). One of the main features of this festival, which is particularly impressive due to its regulations, is the prohibition to enjoy leavened foods (Hebrew chametz) or to possess them at all. Soured is understood to mean all grain products that have undergone a fermentation process at any stage, even before grinding, due to the action of ferments, moisture or heat.

Spring cleaning

In order to rid the apartment of leavened food, there is therefore Passover an extremely thorough house cleaning takes place. The host is obliged to do so on the eve of the 14th Nissan - or if that is the case Shabbat is, one day earlier, to search the entire house for any leaven that is still present and then to burn the find in the morning. All kitchen utensils and cutlery must also be freed of acidic residues by burning them out or boiling them out. For Passover crockery is used that is only intended for this occasion, while what is otherwise used is separated.

The seder evening marks the beginning of the festival

While the synagogal rite essentially corresponds to that of the other pilgrimage festivals, this festival is characterized by the fact that there is a domestic ritual for the first two evenings, a festive meal that follows a fixed order. This ceremony is called Seder, from the Hebrew word for “order”. The whole family gathers at the seder; if possible, guests are also invited.

Symbolic food

The symbolic dishes necessary for this meal are on a plate: three mazzot, each wrapped in a napkin or in a three-compartment pocket; also “earth fruits”, for which radishes, celery or parsley are used; a vessel with salt water; Bitter herb, which means horseradish or lettuce (or both); a brownish sauce made from grated apples, almonds, cinnamon and wine; a bone with some fried meat on it and a boiled egg. The bone with the meat serves as a reminder of that Passoversacrifice, the sacrificial lamb, although it is not customary to use a mutton bone for it; the egg is supposed to symbolize the pilgrimage sacrifice. Both must be suitable for consumption, but are not eaten, while the other dishes, the Seder plate, are enjoyed during the ceremony. They too are of symbolic significance and are related to the bondage of the Jews in Egypt: the salt water in which the earth fruits are dipped is reminiscent of the shed tears, the bitter herbs of the bitter sufferings, the brown fruit pulp of the clay from which the Israelites had to make bricks; the mazzot are called "bread of the poor".

Memory of ancient feasts

The order of the domestic celebration corresponds to the customs of the ancient banquet. The symbolically interpreted dishes are also part of the ancient meal, so that ancient customs and symbolism have merged. The ancient customs also corresponded to the rule not to sit down at mealtimes but to lie down. This custom is observed with the Seder insofar as one sits astray and the landlord uses a particularly comfortable armchair with cushions. Wine is drunk on Seder evenings, and four cups are required per person. In addition to the drinking vessels for the participants in the meal, another goblet filled with wine is placed on the table, which is intended for the prophet Elijah, whose coming is expected: Elijah is considered to be the harbinger of the Messiah.

Story of the Exodus from Egypt

The main content of the Seder is the reading of special texts relating to the Exodus from Egypt; they are in the Passover-Haggadah (Haggadah means "story") compiled. The person who "gives" the Seder, i.e. directs it, should not only present the texts, if possible, but also explain them. The evening-length ceremony begins with the festive kiddush (blessing over the wine), followed by the blessing over the fruits of the earth, after which parsley or radishes are dipped in salt water and eaten. The formal occasion for the presentation of the texts that tell of the Exodus from Egypt and explain the festival and its ritual are four questions that the youngest participating child asks and that focus on the meaning of the ceremonial. The reading of the Haggadah is interrupted by dinner.

Special dinner

Dinner should consist of at least two courses. As a first course, hard-boiled eggs in salt water are common. Eggs are either interpreted as a symbol of life or are also a sign of mourning, as one should remember the destruction of the temple during the celebration. The eggs are usually followed by a meat dish, although it should be noted that no fried meat is used on these two evenings. Mutton, which is common among Sephardic Jews, is not eaten at the feast in northern and central Europe. The end of the dinner is the symbolic dessert, the afikoman, the piece of matzah that was previously put aside. The joyful custom has developed that the head of the house cannot find the piece at first because the children taking part in the celebration have hidden it. In order for the celebration to continue, the piece of matzah must be triggered with a small gift.

Lots of singing

Then the seder continues. The second part, which begins with grace, is a little relaxed and takes account of the fatigue of the participants, especially the children, in that it contains a series of songs whose refrains are sung by everyone together. The best-known song is that of the kid, which has found its way into “Des Knaben Wunderhorn” in German translation. With him the seder ends, the ritual of which is essentially the same on both evenings.

From: Heinrich Simon: Jewish Holidays, Verlag Hentrich and Hentrich and Centrum Judaicum Berlin, 2003