What Is Passover? How Is It Traditionally Celebrated?

Passover—it’s one of the better-known Jewish holidays, but many people don’t fully understand its origins, why it’s celebrated and how it’s celebrated.

What Is Passover?

Passover, also known as Pesach, is one of three biblically ordained “Pilgrimage Festivals” within the Jewish faith. Considered one of the major Jewish holidays, it’s regularly celebrated on the 15th day of the Hebrew month of Nisan (the seventh month of the Jewish calendar), and always falls in the spring. In Israel, the Passover celebration lasts 7 days, but it’s typically 8 days long within the Jewish diaspora.

The biblical account of the origins of Passover is found in the Book of Exodus, while the Israelites are living in captivity in Egypt. According to Exodus, Moses (the leader of the Israelites) sees Yahweh in a burning bush and is told to confront Pharaoh, who is holding the Israelites in slavery. To demonstrate his power, Yahweh subjects the Egyptians to 10 different plagues, the last one being the death of every first-born son in Egypt. Yahweh instructs Moses, however, to have the Israelites put a mark above their doors in lamb’s blood before the plague takes place. All houses that have such a mark, according to Yahweh, will be “passed over”—first born sons in those homes will be spared.

How Is Passover Celebrated in the Jewish Faith?

There are a number of traditions associated with Passover. During the entire period of Passover, those celebrating it generally refrain from any foods that are leavened—that rise. Not surprisingly, Passover is also known as the “Festival of Unleavened Bread.” This tradition is believed to stem from the time immediately after the plague and Passover. According to Exodus, Pharaoh consented to release the Israelites from their bondage after the last plague, but they needed to leave immediately, allowing no time for their bread to rise. In fact, it is commanded in Exodus 12, Yahweh commands that the Israelites eat bread without yeast and remove any yeast from their homes.

The other common practice during Passover is the seder, a ritual feast that takes place on the first evening of the Festival. The seder combines the retelling of the Jewish Exodus out of Egypt with the consumption of specific foods and wines. The story focuses on the themes of slavery/bondage and freedom, and involves the reading of the Haggadah. During the course of the seder, participants consume four glasses of kosher wine, each one symbolic of the deliverances promised and kept by Yahweh, as set forth in Exodus. Participants are also served a seder plate, often divided into specific section, including six items:

  • Bitter herbs, also known as maror, to symbolize the harshness of living in bondage in Egypt. The most common herb used as maror is horseradish.
  • Chazeret, customarily romaine lettuce with bitter-tasting roots, also symbolizing the bitterness of the life in slavery in Egypt
  • Charoset, usually made with dates, and including lemon, orange or even bananas, to symbolize the mortar Jewish slaves used to build storehouses in Egypt
  • Karpas, typically a non-bitter vegetable, such as celery, parsley or even a cooked potato, which is dipped in salt water to signify the Jewish tears in bondage
  • Zeroa, a roasted lamb’s shank bone, commemorating both the death of firstborns in the plague, and the sacrifice of the Passover lamb in the temple on the evening of Passover
  • Beitzah, a roasted or hard-boiled egg, a symbol of mourning, as well as the sacrifice of the Passover lamb

Gutterman’s—Comprehensive Funeral and Burial Services for Five Generations

At Gutterman’s, we handle all matters related to funerals and burials for members of the Jewish faith in New York and Florida. We are intimately familiar with Jewish customs and traditions, including the different practices within the different sects of Judaism. We offer guidance on all matters related to or arising out of the death of a loved one, from preparation of the body to the selection of a casket or monument, arrangements for sitting Shiva, and the creation of a Yahrzeit calendar. We will have you write a meaningful obituary and will work with you to put together respectful and appropriate memorial and burial services.

While we fully recognize the serious nature of the COVID pandemic, and are dedicated to taking all appropriate measures to protect your safety and the health of our employees, we also understand the integral role a funeral and burial plays in the grieving process, as well as their importance in Jewish tradition. We will work closely with you to identify ways that you can pay your respects to your loved one and your traditions while staying safe. We strictly adhere to all guidelines established by state and federal public health agencies, including measures related to social distancing, mask etiquette and personal hygiene. For a statement of the current safety measures in place at our chapels, go to our website.

To learn how we can help you in your time of loss, contact us online or call us at one of the numbers listed below. At the present time, because of the pandemic, we are available to consult with you by phone, text message or videoconferencing. We will take your call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.