Passover - (Hebrew:
transliterated as Pessach or Pessah or Pesah , pronounced Peh' sa'h)
(guttural "h") Literally - passing over or skipping.) A Jewish holiday
celebrating the exodus of the Jews from Egypt and freedom from slavery in
ancient times. The week of Passover opens with a festive ritual meal, the
(meaning "order"), during which Jews must eat only unleavened bread (Matza).
The meal and the ritual follow the order set down in the
book, perhaps transmitted originally by oral tradition, that contains prayers
and liturgy and instructions on every aspect of the
According to Jewish tradition, the Lord ordered the Jews to sacrifice a lamb and
smear the thresholds of their doors with the blood. The angel of the Lord then
went through Egypt and killed off all the first born sons of the Egyptians,
passing over the houses that were marked with the blood of the paschal Lamb.
That is the derivation of the name "Passover" or Pesah. The lamb
shank is therefore part of the traditional Seder.
Seder meal is
accompanied by reading of the
Haggadah, a book of
prayers, parables, chants and rabbinical sayings, compiled over a very
long period. The
opens with the wish or vow: "This year we are here [in the
Diaspora], next year in the land of Israel. This year we are slaves; Next
year will shall be free. The
closes with the wish, "Next Year in Jerusalem."
Thus it came to embody core of the Zionist idea and made the holiday a vehicle
for the transmission of the love of freedom and the love of Zion for 2000 years.
Zionism turned the "wishes" into pledges for those who want to take them.
is a festival of national liberation. It is also a festival of liberation from
slavery and oppression. The story of Passover therefore became a symbol of
the longing of African slaves in the United States for freedom and was
incorporated into spirituals. Passover also became a special holiday of the
movement for that reason.
In Israel, and especially in Jerusalem, some modify the final pledge to say "Next
year in rebuilt Jerusalem."
The Passover ritual is the product of a long evolution. It
underwent several key changes. The Seder ritual itself was first codified in the
time of the Mishna, about 70-200 CE. It is reflects the need to provide a mobile
form of worship and of celebrating the holiday following the destruction of the
temple and the exile. It is probable that at this time competition from Easter,
celebrated by Christians at the same time, may have stimulated interest in
strengthening and elaborating the holiday observance.
Kosher for Passover
The original commandments state only that one may
not eat leavened bread on Passover or have any such bread in one's possession.
This injunction has been widened and reinterpreted in many ways. All
earthenware, china or plastic vessels that may have absorbed food that has
leavening in it must not be used during the holiday. All foods and anything that
touches the mouth, from Coca Cola to lipstick and lip balm, must be produced
specially for Passover under rabbinical supervision to ensure that they do not
accidentally contain unleavened bread (Chametz) or yeast. All different kinds of
grains such as barley and rye and oats, as well as wheat, that were not
especially harvested and prepared are forbidden. Additionally,
Jews do not eat any foods that contain beans or rice. This last prohibition was
evidently instituted within the last few hundred years, on the supposition that
wheat grains and or yeast may have accidentally gotten into rice or beans.
An extreme orthodox
prohibition forbids the eating of wet Matzot, since dampness may cause
germination of yeast. This includes Matzot that have been broken into soup or
that became wet with wine. It is called "gebrochts." You can make up your own
mind as to which of these customs suits your temperament and understanding.
Blood Libel and Passover
In the Middle Ages, Christians developed the notion that Matzot were backed from
the blood of Christian children. This idea may have originated because of the
Christian idea that the Passover sacrifice was somehow related to the sacrifice
of Jesus which would absolve the world of its sins. This led to periodic
outbreaks of the
Historical Evidence for the Passover story
The historicity of the Passover story has been questioned in
recent years. Some of this questioning is due to legitimate scientific inquiry
and academic debate. Some however, is tendentious, and is intended to
delegitimize the claim of the Jewish people to the land of Israel. The biblical
account cannot be directly related to any any specific event recorded in the
admittedly very incomplete records of Egyptian history, nor can it be refuted. The bible
does not give the name of the Pharaoh in whose reign the Hebrews had entered
Egypt nor the reigning Pharaoh when they left Egypt. He is simply "Pharoah."
The name Moses and some others are Egyptian in sound and
probably in derivation, but those details could have been devised to lend
authenticity to the tale. There are ten commandments and ten plagues - the
Egyptians counted by tens and had a ten-based number system, while the Hebrews
and Canaanites and Sumerian and Babylonian civilizations had a 12-based system.
This is suggestive but not conclusive. There are proto-Semitic inscriptions in
Sinai that could have been left by Hebrews wandering in the desert, but they
could as well have been left by other Semitic tribes. The song of Miriam
Exodus 15 is certainly archaic and indicative of a very
old oral tradition. There is no evidence of
the conquest of Canaan by the Hebrews at a specific date, though archeologists
once believed there was.
Attempts to prove the historicity of the Exodus narrative
give widely different dates for it, ranging from 2200 BCE to circa 1500 to about
1200 - 1300 BCE. The last date is the one accepted by most biblical scholars.
Some of the conflicting evidence is discussed in these
II AND THE HISTORICITY OF THE EXODUS-PHARAOH
the Exodus Really Been Disproven?
there evidence of the Exodus from Egypt?
The Hebrew Exodus
While the authors offer seemingly convincing proof for the
Exodus, the fact that they cannot agree on a date for its occurrence is
troublesome, and it seems that they too are trying to prove a point about
religious belief rather than simply examining historical evidence. Much of the
evidence they present has been discredited by others.
We have to accept that the story of the Exodus is at present
unverified. The historical narrative of the bible was oral history that had been
handed down for an indeterminate period, spun into various legends and then
recorded and codified. If there is no basis at all for the Hebrew Exodus, then
it is remarkable that a people would record as a point of pride that they had
once been slaves. When the Romans and others invented genealogies for themselves
they portrayed themselves as the sons of gods and mythical war heroes. So if the
Hebrew Exodus is entirely a fable, it is still a tradition that attests to
remarkable features of Jewish culture and outlook. It is also a very old
tradition, probably older than the Illiad of Homer.
The remarkable thing about oral traditions like the Illiad is
that eventually they seem to gather backing from archeological results, despite
skepticism. However, even if it could somehow be proven that the entire history
of the Hebrews before 700 BCE was a fabrication, and that they had sprung upon
the world from nowhere about that time, it is unclear what would be gained by
anti-Zionists who champion views in order to discredit Zionism,
No rational person can seriously suggest that while the story of the Hebrews is
a fable, the tale of Muhammad
journeying through the air on his horse al Buraq to Jerusalem, to heaven and to
hell nearly two millennia after the Jews arrived in Israel, and tying his horse up at the wailing wall, is an established fact that
title to the land of Israel. Moreover, as Muhammad and traditional
accepted the Hebrew story of the Exodus and the existence of Moses as well as
Abraham, these views would be as disrespectful of Islam as they are of Jewish
October 19, 2008
alternate spellings: Pessah, Pesah, Pesach, Pessach.
Ha Lachma Aniah,
Hebrew/Arabic pronunciation and
- ('het) a guttural sound made deep in the throat. To Western ears it may
sound like the "ch" in loch. In Arabic there are several letters that
have similar sounds. Examples: 'hanukah, 'hamas, 'haredi. Formerly, this sound
was often represented by ch, especially in German transliterations of
Hebrew. Thus, 'hanukah is often rendered as Chanuka for example.
- (chaf) a sound like "ch" in loch or the Russian Kh
as in Khruschev or German Ach, made by putting the tongue against
the roof of the mouth. In Hebrew, a chaf can never occur at the beginning of a
word. At the beginning of a word, it has a dot in it and is pronounced "Kaf."
- usually between oo as in spoon and u as in put.
sounded like a in arm
used to represent an a sound made by the letter hey at the end of a word.
It is the same sound as a. Haganah and Hagana are alternative acceptable
used for Hebrew and Arabic
ayin, a guttural ah sound.
- close to the French o as in homme.
- (taf without a dot) - Th was formerly used to transliterate the Hebrew
taf sound for taf without a dot. However in modern Hebrew there is no
detectable difference in standard pronunciation of taf with or without a dot,
and therefore Histadruth and Histadrut, Rehovoth and Rehovot are all acceptable.
(quf) - In transliteration of Hebrew and Arabic, it is best to
consistently use the letter q for the quf, to avoid confusion with similar
sounding words that might be spelled with a kaf, which should be transliterated
as K. Thus, Hatiqva is preferable to Hatikva for example.
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