Observing the Passover Holiday

Batya Rosner

What to do, and when to do it. Plus, our most important tip: Please, don’t forget to enjoy the holiday!

For at least a month beforehand, Jews perform significant preparation for the holiday of Passover. Passover 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 3 through Motza’ei  Shabbat, April 11 on the secular calendar. The restrictions of chametz  begin on the morning of Friday, April 3.


A search for chametz  is conducted Thursday evening, April 2, and the chametz  that is found is burned the next morning. See Halacha Round.

The eve of the holiday — this year Friday, April 3 — is a fast day for Jewish firstborn males, commemorating the miracle which spared the firstborn Jewish sons from God’s Egyptians fate of tenth plague — the last … 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 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 3 – Sunday night, April 5 and last two days (sundown of Thursday, April 9 – Motza’ei  Shabbat, April 11) are observed with Shabbat restrictions on work and creative activity, with the exceptions of carrying and the use of fire (with respect to cooking and preparation of food). For information about preparing an eruv tavshilin (Thursday, April 9). The Shehecheyanu  blessing is recited on the first two nights only. The intermediate days of Passover (chol hamoed : Monday, April 6, Tuesday, April 7, Wednesday, April 8, and Thursday, April 9) are considered “semi-festive.” Only certain work, activities and crafts, as defined by Jewish law, are prohibited. Ask an Orthodox rabbi for guidance.


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. See our Kashering Primer.

For specific questions, consult a local Orthodox rabbi.


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.

Torah mitzvot:

1 Relating the story of the Exodus (Maggid – reading from the Haggadah)

2 Eating matza

Rabbinical mitzvot:

1 Drinking four cups of wine (arbah kosot)

2 Eating bitter herbs (maror)

3 Reciting Psalms of praise (Hallel)

4 Eating the afikomen (an extra piece of matza for dessert as a reminder of the Passover offering)

5 Demonstrating acts of freedom (such as sitting with a pillow cushion, and leaning to the left as we eat matza and drink wine)

Seder Plate

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;

1 Charoset: mixture of apples, nuts, wine and cinnamon, symbolizing the bricks and mortar of ancient Egypt;

2 Karpas: a vegetable (preferably parsley, potato or celery);

3 Maror: bitter herbs (may consist of romaine lettuce, endives or pure horseradish);

4 Beitzah: a roasted or boiled egg;

5 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 matza three times during the Seder:

1 At the beginning of the Seder (with a special blessing);

2 For Korech (Hillel sandwich) together with the maror;

3 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:

1 Start of the Seder, following Kiddush;

2 Before the meal (after reciting the Haggadah story);

3 Following the Birkat Hamazon (Grace after the meal);

4 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:

1 Dipped in charoset;

2 Immediately thereafter, a second, smaller volume of maror is eaten with matza 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 mitzva.

For directions to properly clean and prepare romaine lettuce for use as maror, see page 16.

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.

View Passover terms