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Passover 2013: 5 Things to Know About the Jewish Holiday

Passover is one of the most sacred Jewish holidays. It began on Monday, March 25 at sundown. It is an eight day long festival, beginning on the 15th day of the Hebrew month of Nissan and ending on the 22nd day. Passover commemorates the emancipation of Israelites from slavery by the ancient Egyptians.

The Israelites were held captive by the Egyptians for decades when the Israeli prophet Moses told the pharaoh to let his people go. Pharaoh refused, and the Egyptians endured ten plagues because of this. The tenth plague is where the name "Passover" comes from, since God passed over the homes of Israelites sparing their first born sons. Thus, Passover is a joyous holiday, celebrating the freedom of the Jewish people. Here are five important customs that Jewish people partake in during Passover.

1. Ridding Homes Of Chametz

This is an intense process, and one that Jewish people take very seriously. The word chametz means leavened bread. Cleaning houses and ridding them of chametz can take weeks. For many, it is like a spring cleaning. It is a search and destroy mission as any product containing leavened bread is removed from the home. It culminates with the ceremonial search for chametz the night before the holiday, and the burning of the chametz the morning before the holiday.

2.  The "Seders"

The Seders are two traditional meals that take place on the first two nights of Passover. Throughout the meals, Seder goers read from Haggadah, a book that contains biblical passages. A Seder plate contains six foods that symbolize elements of liberation. Each food is specific and serves a purpose in the celebration. Wine is a staple during Passover, as it symbolizes the freedom of those gathered together during the Seder. Four cups is recommended!

3. The Eating Of Bitter Herbs

Why eat bitter herbs during a holiday that is meant for celebration? Bitter herbs have a symbolic element, since they are used to commemorate the time the Jews spent in captivity. Bitter herbs are made of a mixture of apples, nuts, raisins, wines, and spices. This signifies the mortar the Israelites used.

4. Matzah

Throughout Passover, Jews are forbidden to eat gluten. Thus, during the holiday, matzah is eaten. Matzah is brittle, flattened bread. Matzah contains no wheat, barley, or grain of any kind. Matzah is significant in that the Jewish people left Egypt in a hurry, and had no time to let their bread rise.

5. The Dividing Of Passover Into Two Parts

This is extremely significant. The first two days and the last two days of Passover are full-fledged holidays. Holiday candles are lit at night and kuddush and delicious meals are enjoyed at night as well. During these days, no one works, drives, writes, or switches on electric lights. However, cooking is permitted. During the intermediate days, regular work is permitted. Passover is a significant holiday for the Jewish people. It is a time for remembrance of past tribulations and celebration for having survived.

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