What to eat at Passover

Radio 4 has a 5 minute radio excerpt about which food is allowed and which is not, during the Jewish festival of Passover. Passover is the most celebrated of all Jewish holidays and remembers how in the biblical Book of Exodus it tells how the Israelites were slaves in Egypt. You had God parting the Red Sea and the prophet Moses leading them to freedom. Later on they wandered through the desert to the Holy Land, and along the way God gave them Jewish law. This is what Passover remembers.

seder plate

The lamb bone symbolises the sacrifice brought to the temple in Jerusalem on the afternoon before Passover.
The egg is another symbol of sacrifice but also has another meaning. Food usually becomes soft when cooked, but eggs become harder. So the egg symbolises the Jews’ determination not to give up their beliefs while they were slaves in Egypt.
The lettuce dipped in salt water is a reminder of the slaves tears.
The bitter herbs symbolise the bitter suffering of the Israelites in Egypt.
The charoset represents the mortar used by the Israelites to make bricks while enslaved in Egypt.
Four cups of wine remind Jews of the four times God promised freedom to the Israelites, and to symbolise liberty and joy.

So how do Jewish people celebrate Passover? By participating in a big meal called a seder, which means “order” in Hebrew — all its rituals are performed step by step. Seder guests take turns telling the story of the Exodus and the Israelites’ new relationship with God based on the law given to Moses on Mount Sinai.

Jewish families own haggadahs, books that recount the Exodus. Each participant in the seder gets a copy and follows along as family and friends read and explain the symbolism of the foods on the table. Some haggadahs are beautifully illustrated books with added commentary and poems.

Something to remember is that Jewish people deny themselves bread for the eight days of Passover. The reason for this is that rushing out of Egypt, with Pharaoh’s army at their heels, the Israelites had no time to bake bread. So to this day Jews eat matzo — essentially a flat cracker — during Passover in place of food with leavening. So forget the croissants, pasta, granola bars, etc.


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