Thank you to all who joined us for the Passover 101 course with Rabbi Ruth Adar!
This program is one session out of many we have planned for a whole year of Jewish Holidays and Traditions 101 – Your Guide to the Jewish Calendar. By signing up, you will be notified about all 101 courses being held this year.
(Passover Fact Sheet)
The story of Passover is the story of the Exodus from Egypt, when God hears the cries of the enslaved Israelites and delivers them from bondage. God sends Moses as God’s representative to both the Israelites and to their tormentor, Pharaoh. After a considerable struggle, including the ten plagues, the Israelites leave Egypt at God’s command. On the night that they leave, they must follow God’s instructions for a final meal in Egypt. Then they run, pursued by Pharaoh and his army, and are delivered from danger when God makes one last great miracle and parts the sea before them, then closes it over Pharoah and the Egyptian armies. At last, they are free.
Exodus is the great foundation narrative of the Jewish People, and the Feast of Passover or Pesach is the way we have kept this story alive for every generation of Jews for thousands of years. At the seder, we do more than tell the story—we RELIVE the story!
Who celebrates Passover? Jews worldwide celebrate Passover. Among North American Jews it is the holiday celebrated by the greatest number of households.
Passover has many names. In Hebrew and Yiddish, Pesach (PEH-sakh). Sometimes in Hebrew it is referred to as Chag HaMatzot (Khahg ha-ma-TZOHT), meaning the Feast of Matzah. In Spanish, it is Pascua (PAS-qua). In Ladino, Pesah (PEH-sah.)
When – Passover begins on 15 Nisan on the Jewish calendar. Passover for the year 2021starts at sundown on Saturday, March 27th and it is celebrated for 7 or 8 days. The duration of Passover depends on the custom of the community. The festival ends at sunset on Saturday, April 3rd for Reform Jews and for progressive Jews living inside Israel. For other Jews outside Israel the festival lasts 8 days ending at sunset on Sunday, April 4th. When in doubt, consult with your own community about the length of Passover.
Where – Passover is mainly a home holiday, and its primary expression takes two forms: the seder, or Passover meal, and the eating of matzah instead of regular bread products during the holiday.
The Mitzvot of Passover
1. Clear the home of chametz. What is chametz? It is any of the 5 grains (oat, wheat, spelt, rye, or barley) that may have been touched by water. Sometimes people describe it as “leavening” but that is not precise. If you have a car or other domain under your control, chametz should be removed from there as well. We live (ideally) in a chametz-free environment for the duration of Passover.
2. Attend a seder. What is a seder? A seder is a ritual meal and learning session in which we deepen our understanding of the story of the Exodus. Seder means “Order” because the evening follows a particular order outlined in the Haggadah. The Haggadah is the script for the evening. Some households follow it closely; others treat it more like a set of suggestions for improv. Both are correct. Everything about the seder is designed to encourage questions and to help participants experience the Exodus story as if each had been on the journey themselves. No two seders are alike.
3. Eat matzah. What is matzah? Matzah is a flat bread, a combination of one of the five grains (oats, wheat, spelt, rye, or barley) and water. Kosher for Passover matzah is produced especially quickly, with a maximum of 18 minutes from the water touching the flour to baking. Ground-up matzah (matzah meal) is used extensively in kosher for Passover cooking, instead of flour.
4. Rejoice. How can we be commanded to rejoice, especially in a difficult year? Emotions cannot be commanded, but we go through the activities of rejoicing (singing, appreciating the company, enjoying good food, drinking wine) trusting that if it is possible to lift our spirits, they will rise. We fulfill this mitzvah when we are open to the possibility of rejoicing.
Other Passover Terms
Seder Plate – a centerpiece for the table that is intended to inspire questions and conversation about the Exodus story. Traditionally a seder plate contains the ceremonial foods of the seder: matzah, zeroa (shankbone of a lamb), roasted egg, bitter herbs, charoset (a paste of nuts, fruit, and sweet wine) and karpas, a green vegetable. Vegetarians often substitute a beet for the shankbone. Vegans sometimes substitute a flower, a sign of spring, for the egg.
Kitniyot – Ashkenazi Jews refrain not only from chametz but from kitniyot. Kitniyot is a Hebrew word meaning “legumes” but the category includes rice, corn, sunflower seeds and sesame seeds. The important thing is to find out the practice of others in your community (that is, others with whom you might eat during Passover.) Sephardic Jews in general do not worry about kitniyot, which is why you will see recipes containing rice in Sephardic Passover cookbooks.
Passover Preparation — We Begin in Egypt — Passover preparations for beginners.
Stuck in Egypt: The Movie Seder — A Seder for the Completely Overwhelmed.
Passover 101 Playlist
Rabbi Ruth Adar
Jewish Experience Educator & Board Member
Ruth Adar is a Reform rabbi, also known as the Coffee Shop Rabbi, a member of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, and an active participant in the East Bay Jewish scene since 1993. She is a graduate of the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, the Divinity School at the University of Chicago, and the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. Prior to rabbinical school, Rabbi Adar was on the National Outreach Staff for the Union of Reform Judaism, a position that attuned her to interfaith issues. She is well acquainted with both the Catholic and Protestant Christian traditions, as her studies at the University of Chicago were in History of Christianity and History of Religions.