This year the first night of Passover falls on Friday night April 22nd. This means the upcoming week will be one of preparing. Observant households are cleaned and cleared of all leavened (yeasted or raised) bread and grains, since for the entire 8 days of the holiday, they are not eaten.
Passover is the biblical holiday of the Feast of Unleavened Bread. It commemorates the Exodus of the Hebrews from slavery in Egypt. It is celebrated by both Jews and Christians. Jesus famously celebrated the Feast of Passover at what is now called The Last Supper. It is important to me as Jew among Christians to highlight the fact that we share this common narrative of liberation and redemption. Passover is always fresh, modern and relevant. It is one of my favorite holidays because of these themes, and since it involves food and family.
Passover is celebrated over an eight day period not at a synagogue, but at the dinner table. The story of the Exodus is retold at the table though the reading of a work of liturgy called the Haggadah, which is essentially a narrative recounting of the portion of the book of Exodus which chronicles the event.
Here is the real genius of the observance in my opinion: The series of dishes in the meal serve as illustrations for the major points in the story ! This serves to keep the attendants engaged and makes the elements of the story unforgettable. Our ancestors felt so strongly about instilling within us this story of freedom that they enshrined it in a festive meal.
This post will cover the elements of the festive meal, in order, and their meanings. Next week we will look at modern recipes for the same.
Historical Culinary Elements of the Passover Seder:
1st cup of wine or grape juice
To sanctify the day
Karpas (green herbs)
To announce spring
Salt water for dipping
To signify the tears of the people
Matzah (unleavened flat bread)
made in haste for an urgent departure
Maror ( Bitter herbs) traditionally horseradish,
to symbolize the bitterness of slavery
Charoset (chopped fruit, nut and spice mixture)
to signify the mortar with which the slaves built the cities
2nd cup to signify redemption
3rd cup to signify blessing
The festive meal beginning with a roasted egg to symbolize new life. A roasted lamb shank is included and lamb is often served to symbolize the sacrificial Paschal lamb. Typically potatoes are served since they are in season, and they are not a leavened grain.
4th cup to commemorate acceptance
of the Covenant of Law
The historical ingredients of the meal are a bit peculiar to work with but are imbued with meaning. Stay tuned next week for the delicious modern adaptations of these ancient dishes.