For at least a month beforehand, Jews perform significant preparation for Passover. The holiday commemorates the emancipation of the Israelites from Egyptian slavery more than 3,000 years ago.
This guide will help not only explain many of the laws related to Passover – such as when various customs and commandments are done — but will also elaborate on the terms associated with the holiday.
If you are unsure about any aspect of Passover observance please consult an Orthodox rabbi.
The festival takes place from the 15th to the 22nd of the Hebrew month of Nisan, that is from sundown Friday, April 22 through Motza’ei Shabbat, April 30 on the secular calendar. The restrictions of chametz begin on the morning of Friday, April 22.
Customs before Passover
A search for chametz is conducted Thursday evening, April 21, and the chametz that is found is burned the next morning.
The eve of the holiday — this year Friday, April 22 — is a fast day for Jewish firstborn males, commemorating the miracle which spared the firstborn Jewish sons from the Egyptians’ fate of God’s tenth plague – the last to precede the Exodus. In many congregations, a siyum is conducted, in which a portion of Torah is concluded – a celebratory occasion which allows participating males to the break their fast.
Before Passover, there is a custom to give Maot Chittin, money for the poor to buy matzot and other food for Passover.
All dietary laws and restrictions remain in effect until nightfall of the eighth day of Passover. Chametz which was properly sold may only be eaten once the resale is confirmed by your agent.
Chametz which was in the possession of a Jew during Passover, in violation of Jewish law, is forbidden for consumption by any Jew even after Passover.
The first two days (sundown of Friday, April 22 – Sunday night, April 24 and last two days (sundown of Thursday, April 28 – Motza’ei Shabbat, April 30) are observed with Shabbat restrictions o n work and creative activity, with the exceptions of carrying and the use of fire (with respect to cooking and preparation of food). Women (in the Diaspora) are reminded to recite “hamavdil ben kodesh l’kodesh” prior to lighting the yom tov candles on Motza’ei Shabbat, April 23rd. The Shehecheyanu blessing is recited on the first two nights only.
For information about preparing an eruv tavshilin (Thursday, April 28) see page 29.
The intermediate days of Passover (chol hamoed: Monday, April 25, Tuesday, April 26, Wednesday, April 27, and Thursday, April 28) are considered “semi-festive.” Only certain work, activities and crafts, as defined by Jewish law, are prohibited. Ask an Orthodox rabbi for guidance.
Preparing the home
Keeping a year-round kosher home is not the same as a “kosher for Passover” home, since Jewish law forbids the consumption or possession of all chametz during the holiday. Special preparations for Passover include:
- The home must be thoroughly cleaned of all chametz.
- Any chametz not removed from a Jew’s premises before Passover should be sold and the storage locations leased to a non-Jew. Your Orthodox rabbi can help.
- All cooking and eating utensils must be either set aside exclusively for Passover, or, in some cases kashered (in consultation with a rabbi), according to the procedures of Jewish law.
For specific questions, consult a local Orthodox rabbi.
What is Chametz?
Chametz refers to any food created by allowing grain (specifically wheat, oat, spelt, rye or barley) and water to ferment and rise—most commonly referred to as “leaven.”
Even foods with minute amounts of chametz ingredients, or foods processed on utensils which are used for chametz, are not permissible for Passover use. Practically speaking, any processed food that is not certified “Kosher for Passover” may potentially include chametz ingredients.
Brief Guide to the Seder
There are two Torah obligations and five rabbinical obligations performed during the Seder.
- Relating the story of the Exodus (Maggid – reading from the Haggadah)
- Eating matzah
- Drinking four cups of wine (arbah kosot)
- Eating bitter herbs (maror)
- Reciting Psalms of praise (Hallel)
- Eating the afikomen (an extra piece of matzah for dessert as a reminder of the Passover offering)
- Demonstrating acts of freedom (such as sitting with a pillow cushion, and leaning to the left as we eat matzah and drink wine)
A special Seder plate is arranged with symbolic foods to follow the order of the Haggadah. The prepared plate should be placed before the head of the household, or the one conducting the Seder, who dispenses the various foods to each participant. The Seder plate contains:
Three whole matzot: either on the plate or next to it;
- Charoset: mixture of apples, nuts, wine and cinnamon, symbolizing the bricks and mortar of ancient Egypt;
- Karpas: a vegetable (preferably parsley, potato or celery);
- Maror: bitter herbs (may consist of romaine lettuce, endives or pure horseradish);
- Beitzah: a roasted or boiled egg;
- Zeroa: a piece of roasted or boiled meat or poultry;
Also: a bowl of salt water should be placed near the Seder plate.
We are commanded to eat matzah three times during the Seder:
- At the beginning of the Seder (with a special blessing);
- For Korech (Hillel sandwich) together with the maror;
- For the afikomen (at the end of the meal)
For details on the specific amounts and requirements, see below.
Four Cups of Wine
Red wine is preferred for use during the Seder. Each Jew is obligated to drink four cups of wine at these specific times during each Seder:
- Start of the Seder, following Kiddush;
- Before the meal (after reciting the Haggadah story);
- Following the Birkat Hamazon (Grace after the meal);
- Following completion of Hallel.
For details on the specific amounts and requirements, see below.
Bitter Herbs (Maror)
Everyone is obligated to eat bitter herbs twice at each Seder:
- Dipped in charoset;
- Immediately thereafter, a second, smaller volume of maror is eaten with matzah in Korech (the Hillel sandwich).
Cooked or preserved vegetables are not suitable for maror; therefore commercially prepared grated horseradish, which is packed in vinegar, may not be used for the mitzvah.
Relating the Story of the Exodus and Hallel
Young children are encouraged to participate in the Seder to the extent of their ability. It is customary for the youngest person at the Seder to ask the Four Questions.
The formal part of the Seder closes with Hallel, which praises God and His special relationship with the people of Israel.
The Seder traditionally concludes with the singing of several lively songs celebrating the relationship between God and the Jewish people.
Matzah is made of specially supervised flour and water, which must be baked before the dough has had time to rise — within 18 minutes or less. It is the only product based on the five grains (wheat, barley, oat, spelt & rye) which Jews may eat during Passover, and it must be made specifically for Passover use, under rabbinical supervision.
Eating matzah on Passover commemorates the unleavened bread eaten by the Jews when they left Egypt in such haste that there was no time for the dough to rise. Shmurah matzah involves additional steps of supervision and is recommended for use at the Seder.
Not eating gebrokts (Yiddish, meaning matzah that has become “wet”) is a custom by which some Ashkenazim will avoid putting matzah (or any derivative, such as matzah meal) into any liquid to prevent the possibility that improperly mixed dough, that might have any stray flour that was never exposed to water (and therefore still susceptible to leavening,) would subsequently become chametz when finally exposed to liquid.
The Seder is a symbolic reenactment of the Exodus, with a compelling message for young and old alike. The Seder details the journey of the exodus from Egypt by Jewish slaves following a traditional order of blessings, eating symbolic foods, narratives, commentaries and song.