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Passover (Hebrew: ??????, Tiberian: p?sah, Israeli: Pesach, Pesah, Pesakh, Yiddish: Paysokh), is celebrated on the 14th day of the month called Nissan (Leviticus 23:4; Numbers 9:3,5; 28:16), first month of the Jewish year (on the Hebrew calendar). It immediately precedes the Festival of Unleavened Bread (??? ??????????, ha? ham:as?:o?, Chag Hamatzot/s), a Jewish holiday which begins on the 15th day of Nissan (Leviticus 23:6; Numbers 28:17, 33:3) and is celebrated in the northern spring season. In 2007, it arrives at nightfall on April 2. Passover commemorates the Exodus and freedom of the Israelites from ancient Egypt. As described in the Book of Exodus, Passover marks the "birth" of the Children of Israel who become the Jewish nation, as the Jews' ancestors were freed from being slaves of Pharaoh and allowed to become followers of God instead.

The two names for the holiday are a coalescence of two related celebrations. The name Passover (Pesakh, meaning "skipping" or passing over) derives from the night of the Tenth Plague, when the Angel of Death saw the blood of the Passover lamb on the doorposts of the houses of Israel and "skipped over" them and did not kill their firstborn. The meal of the Passover Seder commemorates this event. The name Feast of Unleavened Bread (Khag Ha'Matsot) refers to the weeklong period when leaven has been removed, and unleavened bread or matsa ("flatbread") is eaten.

Together with Sukkot ("Tabernacles") and Shavuot ("Pentecost"), Passover is one of the three pilgrim festivals (Shloshet Ha'Regalim) during which the entire Jewish populace made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, at the time when the Temple in Jerusalem was standing.

In Israel, Passover is a 7-day holiday, with the first and last days celebrated as a full festival (involving abstention from work, special prayer services and holiday meals). In the Jewish diaspora outside Israel, the holiday is traditionally celebrated for 8 days (although Reform Jews celebrate for 7 days), with the first two days and last two days celebrated as full festivals. The intervening days are known as Chol HaMoed ("festival weekdays").

The primary symbol of Passover is the matzo, a flat, unleavened "bread" which recalls the hurriedly-baked bread that the Israelites ate after their hasty departure from Egypt. According to Halakha, matzo may be made from flour derived from five types of grain: wheat, barley, spelt, oats, rye. The dough for matzo is made when flour is added to water only, which has not been allowed to rise for more than 18–22 minutes prior to baking.

Many Jews observe the positive Torah commandment of eating matzo on the first night of Passover at the Passover Seder, as well as the Torah prohibition against eating or owning Chametz which includes any leavened products — such as bread, cake, cookies, beer, whiskey or pasta (or anything made from raw dough that had been left alone for more than 18 minutes, as it then begins to ferment) — for the duration of the holiday.

Origins of the festival

The term Pesach (Hebrew: ??????) or, more exactly, the verb "pasąch" (Hebrew: ??????) is first mentioned in the Torah account of the Exodus from Egypt (Exodus 12:23). It is found in Moses' words that God "will pass over" the houses of the Israelites during the final plague of the Ten Plagues of Egypt, the killing of the first-born. On the night of that plague, which occurred on the 15th day of Nisan, the Israelites smeared their lintels and doorposts with the blood of the Passover sacrifice and were spared.

 

 

There is some debate about the exact meaning of the verb pasąch (??????) as it appears in Exodus. The commonly held assumption that it means "he passed over", stems from the translation provided in the Septuagint (pa?e?e?seta? in Ex. 12:23, and es?epase? in Ex. 12:27). Judging from other instances of the verb, and instances of parallelism, a more faithful translation may be "he hovered over, guarding." Indeed, this is the image used by Isaiah by his use of this verb in Isaiah. 31:5: "As birds hovering, so will the Lord of hosts protect Jerusalem; He will deliver it as He protecteth it, He will rescue it as He passeth over" (???????????? ??????--???? ????? ?????? ????????, ???-????????????; ??????? ?????????, ??????? ??????????.)

The term Pesach also refers to the lamb or kid which was designated as the Passover sacrifice (called the Korban Pesach in Hebrew). Four days before the Exodus, the Israelites were commanded to set aside a lamb or kid (Exodus 12:3) and inspect it daily for blemishes. During the day on the 14th of Nisan, they were to slaughter the animal and use its blood to mark their lintels and doorposts. Up until midnight on the 15th of Nisan, they were to consume the lamb. Each family (or group of families) gathered together to eat a meal that included the meat of the Korban Pesach while the Tenth Plague ravaged Egypt.

In subsequent years, during the existence of the Tabernacle and later the Temple in Jerusalem, the Korban Pesach was eaten during the Passover Seder on the 15th of Nisan. However, following the destruction of the Temple, no sacrifices may be offered or eaten. The story of the Korban Pesach is therefore retold at the Passover Seder, and the symbolic food which represents it on the Seder Plate is usually a roasted lamb shankbone, chicken wing, or chicken neck.