Passover, also known as Pesach or Pesah (פסח pesaḥ), is an eight-day Jewish holiday (seven days in Israel) that commemorates the exodus and freedom of the Israelites from Egypt ; it is also observed by some Christians to commemorate the deliverance from sin by the death of Jesus.
Origins of the Feast
The term Passover comes from the Bible, first mentioned in the book of Exodus. As God pronounced to the people of Israel enslaved in Egypt that he would free them, he said he would "Smite all the firstborn in the land of Egypt." However, he instructed the Israelites to put a sign of lamb's blood on their door posts; "and when I see the blood, I will pass over you." (Exodus 12 - King James Version) It came into the English language through William Tyndale's translation of the Bible. The original word in the Hebrew Torah is posach, hence Pesach.
Although the term is not mentioned until the Book of Exodus, there are indications that at least parts of the Feast were observed in earlier times. For example, in Genesis 19:3 reference is made to "unleavened bread" without any reason given for it.
The two main commandments associated with the holiday are: eating matzoh, or unleavened bread; and the prohibition of eating any foods containing leavening during the holiday. In ancient times there was a third: the offering of a lamb in the evening on the 14th of the Hebrew month of Nisan (also known as Abib) and the eating that night of the Passover sacrifice. The commandments have since combined into a special Passover feast called the seder, celebrated on the first two evenings of the holiday (but only on the first evening in Israel). Other customs associated with Passover include eating bitter herbs and other foods at the seder celebration. While many reasons are given for eating matzoh, the most popular tradition is that it recalls the bread the Israelites ate at the time of the Exodus: in their rush to leave Egypt, they did not have time for the bread to rise.
Traditions and Those Who Celebrate the Passover
There are many peoples throughout the world who celebrate the Passover Feast. The customs vary for each culture. Though, as mentioned above, some may have celebrated this Feast before Israel existed, the Israelites are the first explicitly recorded to keep it. The Jews have continued to celebrate it to this day. Many Christian groups also celebrate God's appointed Holy Days.
Modern Jewish Customs
Before the holiday begins, observant Jews will remove and discard all food with leavening (called chametz) from their households, doing a thorough job, so that not even a crumb remains. This tradition is called bedikat chametz. Throughout the holiday, they will eat no leavened food, replacing breads, pastas, and cakes with matzoh and other specially prepared foods.
Passover is a family holiday and a happy one. The first night is the most important, followed by the second night. It is traditional for a Jewish family to gather on both these nights for a special dinner called a seder (literally translating as "order", due to the very specific order of the ceremony) where the story of the Israelite exodus from Egypt is retold by the reading of the story of the Exodus from Egypt, the Haggadah.
At the seder three matzohs are used. During the seder, the middle matzoh is broken in half. The smaller piece is returned to the set of matzohs while the larger piece is designated as the Afikomen, or the dessert matzoh. Two distinct customs have arisen regarding the afikomen, both of which involve the afikomen being hidden as a means of keeping the children interested in the proceedings. In one custom, a child "steals" it and the parent has to find it. If the parent can't find it, the child is given a reward for the return of the afikomen. In the other custom the parents hide the afikomen and the children look for it at the end of the meal. If the children find it, they receive the reward.
During the seder, a platter, called the "Seder Plate" is a main part of the dinner. The Seder Plate has on it all of the main symbols of Passover. There is a roasted shank bone of a paschal lamb called a "Z'roa" which represents the offerings at the temple at Jerusalem on Passover. It has a roasted egg called a "Beitzah" which represents the Second offerings given at the temple in Jerusalem on Pesach, Shavuot, and Sukkot/Succot. There is a green, leafy vegetable (usually celery (S.) or parsley/lettuce (A.)) called "Karpas" which reminds the participants that Passover corresponds with Spring and the harvest, which, in ancient times was a cause for celebration itself. There is a dish of chopped fruits, nuts, and wine called "Charoset" which represents the mortar used by the Jews in bondage. There is dish of "maror" or bitter herbs which represent the bitterness of slavery.
There is a tradition of speaking of Four Sons. The Wise son, the Wicked son, the Simple one, and the Young one, who does not know enough to inquire. These sons represent the different types of Jews. The Wise son is the observant Jews. The Wicked son is the Jews that reject their heritage and religion. The Simple one is the Jews that are completely indifferent. The Young one is the Jews that don't know their culture or traditions and so, cannot say anything on the subject.
Since "Seder" means "order", it is not unexpected that there is an order to the night's proceedings. The night goes as follows:
The New Testament of the Bible depicts Jesus as the culmination of the Passover Lamb of God, therefore, some Christians continue to celebrate the Passover, but with different meaning. As it is recorded in the New Testament, Jesus has become the sacrificed Passover Lamb (1 Corinthians 5:7). The Christian Passover, unlike the Jewish counterpart, represents a spiritual deliverance from the slavery of sin. The Passover celebration is a memorial of the sacrifice that Jesus has made for mankind.
Although observances differ between groups of Christian believers, many follow the instructions that Jesus gave to his disciples at the time of his Last Supper before he was crucified. Unleavened bread is used to represent Jesus' body, and wine to represent his blood and the New Covenant. These are a substitute for the traditional lamb used by Israelites in the Old Testament, as Jesus has become the fulfillment of the Passover Lamb. Some also add the ceremony of washing one another's feet, as Jesus did to his disciples the night before his suffering.
Some differences between observing groups are that some observe the celebration on the night before Passover, at the same time that Jesus held his Last Supper, while others observe it at the same time that the Passover was sacrificed, that is, the time of Jesus' sacrifice and death, which occurred in the evening "at the ninth hour," just as the Jews were sacrificing their Passover Lambs.
Similar Traditions in Roman Catholic and Protestant Beliefs
According to the Roman Catholic beliefs, their Holy Week occurs around the same time as Passover. Easter was set so as not to coincide with Passover, though it is determined by a lunisolar calendar as is Passover. The Catholic calendar is designed so that Easter nearly always falls out during the week of Passover or immediately after. When it doesn't, it is simply an error in their calendar. The Catholics believe that Easter replaces Passover in importance, as Passover represents the death of Jesus, they believe that Easter represents the resurrection.
The Roman Christian Church developed its tradition of celebrating the resurrection, deviating from the celebration of God's appointed Holy Day of the Passover representing the death of Jesus, early in its history. In letters exchanged between the Eastern (Greek) churches and the Roman Church as early as the second century, a dispute is laid out that is referred to as the "Quartodeciman Controversy". The Eastern Churches believed that Christians should continue in the tradition of the Apostles of celebrating the Passover on the 14th of Nisan (also known as Abib), whereas the Roman Church had already abandoned the Passover in favor of a celebration on the following Sunday.
Most Protestants follow in the Catholic tradition of celebrating Easter instead of Passover; however, some do not.