Jews: Whatcha doin for Pesach? Non-Jews: Want to learn about Passover?
No disrespect intended. Here’s everything you wanted to know about Pasover but were afraid (or couldn’t be bothered) to ask:
Passover: Feast Without the Yeast
Why are some foods kosher and others not?
by Michael Morrison
The Jewish holiday of Passover, commemorating the Hebrews’ exodus from slavery in Egypt, runs from sundown on March 29, 2010 through sundown on April 6, 2010.
As you walk down the aisles of your supermarket, you may notice the words “Kosher for Passover” on some items and wonder what it actually means. Most people know that Jews eat matzoh instead of bread during Passover—but why would some soda, candy, or even vegetables be kosher for Passover while others would not?
Here is some information that should make things a little clearer.
1. During Passover, Jews refrain from eating chometz: anything that contains barley, wheat, rye, oats, and spelt, and is not cooked within 18 minutes after coming in contact with water. No leavening is allowed. This signifies the fact that the Hebrews had no time to let their bread rise as they made a hurried escape from Egypt.
2. Jews of different backgrounds do not observe all of the same rules. Ashkenazi Jews, who come from Europe (most Jews in America), also avoid corn, rice, peanuts, and legumes as they are also used to make bread and may have other grains mixed in. These items are known askitniyot.
3. Rules and guidelines may be extremely stringent. Not only must Orthodox Jews not eat these items, but they also must completely remove them and any food that has come in contact with them from their homes. They may throw them away, burn them, or sell them to a non-Jew (they are allowed to buy them back at the end of Passover). Some go through amazingly thorough and labor-intensive cleaning processes to rid their homes of any hint of chometz or kitniyot. For example:
o Sinks, refrigerators, ovens, and stoves must be scoured and then not used for at least 24 hours before the beginning of Passover. Specific Passover china must be used.
o Silverware must be “heated to a glow” and then cooled. Items are placed in a pot of boiling water (usually one at a time, because they must not touch each other during the process) and then immediately submerged in cold water.
o Pots must be cleaned inside and out. To accomplish this, a pot must be filled with water and brought to a boil. Then to clean the outside, a brick or rock is placed inside to cause the boiling water to flow over the sides. However, said rock must be hot because the water must still be boiling as it cascades over the sides. A cool rock would cool the water when it came in contact. A blowtorch can be used if one is available.
4. Items which seem acceptable for Passover but may not be:
o Soda: Most sodas contain corn syrup. Since eating corn is a no-no, soda containing corn syrup is also out. Even if corn syrup is not used, sodas generally have “additional flavorings” which are not divulged and could be derived from grains. Only sodas produced under supervision of a rabbi or other official certified agencies are acceptable.
o Frozen vegetables: Many bags of frozen vegetables are produced on the same machinery that also produces pasta or pasta/vegetable blends. Since pasta is made from grain and not allowed, neither are most frozen vegetables, unless made under supervision.
o Raw vegetables: Some fruits and vegetables (cucumbers for example) have wax coatings that may be made from soy proteins and oils derived from grain. Sorry, no dice.
o Dried fruits: These are often dried in ovens where bread is sometimes baked. Some also have waxes, oils, and even traces of flour to prevent sticking.
o Marshmallows: Not allowed unless made under supervision. They contain gelatin, which is made from the bones of potentially non-kosher animals.
o Milk: Unsuitable additives are often used. Chocolate milk is usually unacceptable because it could contain corn syrup or malt, which is made from grain.
And these are just food items. Balloons and rubber gloves can have a powdered coating on them, which may be considered chometz. Even some bug traps use an oatmeal or wheat-based substance and must be removed from the premises.
And let’s not even get started on pet food.
The story of Passover is told in the first third of the Biblical book of Exodus. The Jews had come to Egypt because of a famine, while Joseph was Pharaoh’s trusted advisor. Sometime after Joseph’s death, they were enslaved by the Egyptians and forced to perform hard labor under bitterly cruel conditions for hundreds of years.
Eventually, the prophet Moses went to the new Pharaoh and asked him to let the Jews go. When he refused, God sent a total of ten plagues that devastated Egypt. In the first nine, the waters of the Nile turned to blood, frogs appeared everywhere, lice infested everything, wild animals menaced the land, cattle died, there was an outbreak of boils, hail destroyed the crops, locusts devoured whatever was left, and the land was covered in darkness.
After each plague, Moses asked Pharaoh to set the Jews free. Every time, Pharaoh refused.
The final plague was the killing of the firstborn sons. Moses instructed the Jews to sacrifice a lamb for each family and spread its blood on the doorposts of their house. (As lambs were considered sacred by Egyptians, this was a public test of faith.) God passed over the marked Jewish houses, and killed the firstborn male child in every Egyptian household. There was a great outcry, and Pharaoh finally told Moses to take the Jews and leave Egypt without delay. The Jews left in such a hurry that they didn’t have the time to make bread for the trip; instead, they left carrying dough, which baked on their backs before being able to rise.
The holiday is called “Passover” because God passed over the Jewish houses, protecting them while killing the Egyptian firstborn sons.
The central observance of Passover is the seder.This word literally means “order,” and it refers to the order of services in the banquet on the first night of the holiday. (In Orthodox and Conservative observance outside of Israel, it takes place on both of the first two nights.) In the course of the meal, the story of the Exodus is recounted, continuing the oral tradition stretching back to Biblical times.
Children are encouraged to ask questions about the narrative, and the youngest child present traditionally starts with the “Four Questions,“which ask about the unusual practices of the seder itself. These practices evoke both the bitterness of the Egyptian slavery (e.g., eating bitter herbs) and the freedom granted by God (e.g., reclining luxuriously).
The seder also includes the eating of matzoh, which itself contains both themes. Matzoh is made with flour and water, prepared and baked very quickly so that it never has the chance to rise. Matzoh is identified on the one hand as the “bread of affliction” and “poor man’s bread,” being an extremely humble, plain sort of food that recalls the days of slavery; on the other hand, it also symbolizes freedom, as it was eaten by the Jews as they hurriedly left Egypt for good.