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The Jewish people celebrate Passover as a commemoration of their liberation by God from slavery in Egypt and their freedom as a nation under the leadership of Moses. It commemorates the story of the Exodus as described in the Hebrew Bible especially in the Book of Exodus, in which the Israelites were freed from slavery in Egypt.
- Passover commences on the 15th of the Hebrew month of Nisan and lasts for either seven days or eight days.
- In Judaism, a day commences at dusk and lasts until the following dusk, thus the first day of Passover only begins after dusk of the 14th of Nisan and ends at dusk of the 15th day of the month of Nisan.
- In the narrative of the Exodus, the Bible tells that God helped the Children of Israel escape from their slavery in Egypt by inflicting ten plagues upon the ancient Egyptiansbefore the Pharaoh would release his Israelite slaves; the tenth and worst of the plagues was the death of the Egyptian first-born.
- In commemoration, for the duration of Passover no leavened bread is eaten, for which reason Passover was called the feast of unleavened bread in the Torah or Old Testament.
- Historically, together with Shavuot (“Pentecost”) and Sukkot (“Tabernacles”), Passover is one of the three pilgrimage festivals (Shalosh Regalim) during which the entire population of the kingdom of Judah made a pilgrimage to the Temple in Jerusalem.
- To ensure that Passover did not start before spring, the tradition in ancient Israel held that the first day of Nisan would not start until the barley was ripe, being the test for the onset of spring.
- It is thought by many scholars that Jews outside of Israelcould not be certain if their local calendars fully conformed to practice of the Temple at Jerusalem, so they added an extra day.
- But as this practice only attaches to certain (major) sacred days, others posit the extra day may have been added to accommodate people who had to travel long distances to participate in communal worship and ritual practices; or the practice may have evolved as a compromise between conflicting interpretations of Jewish Law regarding the calendar; or it may have evolved as a safety measure in areas where Jews were commonly in danger, so that their enemies would not be certain on which day to attack.
- The biblical regulations for the observance of the festival require that all leavening be disposed of before the beginning of the 15th of Nisan An unblemished lamb or goat, known as the Korban Pesach or “Paschal Lamb”, is to be set apart on Nisan 10, and slaughtered at dusk as Nisan 14 ends in preparation for the 15th of Nisan when it will be eaten after being roasted.
- It is then to be eaten “that night”, Nisan 15, roasted, without the removal of its internal organs with unleavened bread, known as matzo, and bitter herbs known as maror.
- The removal (or “sealing up”) of the leaven is referred to in the Elephantine papyri, an Aramaic papyrus from 5th century BCE Elephantine in Egypt.
- On the night of the first Passover at the start of the original Exodus, 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.
- During the existence of the Tabernacle and later the Temple in Jerusalem, the Passover offering (Hebrew Korban Pesach) was eaten during the Passover Seder on the 15th of Nisan.
- The eating of the afikoman substitutes for the eating of the Korban Pesach at the end of the Seder meal (Mishnah Pesachim 119a).
- Chametz (חמץ, “leavening”) is made from one of five types of grains combined with water and left to stand for more than eighteen minutes.
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