What Is Passover? The Seder Plate Is An Important Passover Tradition
Photo of Passover Seder Plate showing (clockwise, beginning from top): maror (romaine lettuce), z'roa (roasted shankbone), charoset, maror (chrein), karpas (celery sticks), beitzah (roasted egg) Wikipedia

The Jewish holiday of Passover takes place each Spring based on the Hebrew Calendar and lasts eight days (seven if you are in Israel). The focal point of the holiday is the Seder(s) [translation:order, arrangement] which take place on the first two nights of the holiday, but Passover extends for an entire week. Keep reading to learn the holiday's history and how to observe Passover at home.


Passover is based on the story of Exodus from the second book in the Jewish bible, which tells the story of the Hebrew people's liberation from Egypt, where they were enslaved by the Pharaoh, according to the Bible. During the Seder, Jews retell the entire story, starting with the enslavement of the Hebrews, through the ten plagues and the exodus from Egypt by way of the Red Sea. In Exodus the Hebrew slaves were lead to freedom by Moses, a prophet who God reached out to after ignoring the plight of his chosen people for generations while they toiled in slavery. However, Moses's name is notably absent from the Passover Seder. Why? Because the emphasis is put on God and not any one Jewish leader. For the full Passover story watch the Disney film Prince of Egypt, read the Bible or read this.

Since the exodus from Egypt, Passover has been celebrated in different manners throughout time, while Jewish traditions evolved to the point they are at now. The modern Seder incorporates the teachings and observances of medieval European Rabbis. Today different sects celebrate the holiday in different ways based on different traditions developed among Jewish communities spread across the world.


The most important, and most difficult Passover rule is the commandment to abstain from bread, and any other leavened bread (called Chametz) (meaning anything with yeast in it) for the entire holiday. Ashkenazic (Eastern European) Jews also abstain from Kitniyot (anything that could be confused for Chametz, including rice and most other grains, although Quinoa is still allowed, mostly because Jews only discovered it in the last few years. Sephardic Jews eat Kitniyot, so the Passover diet is a bit easier for them.

To prepare for Passover, many Jews take it upon themselves to clean their entire house/apartment to remove all Chametz, and cover all kitchen surfaces--there can't be any where you are living during the entire eight days (another option is to escape to Florida, Israel or some other warm destination for teh duration). It is also necessary to use a different set of dishes, cutlery and cooking equipment throughout the holiday, if you wish to fully commit to observing Passover.

On the night before Pesach, Jews participate in Bedikat Chametz [translation: search for leavened bread] by scattering ten pieces of chametz through their home and searching them out using a candle for light and a feather and wooden spoon to collect the pieces of bread. To complete the ritual, put the chametz in a bag and burn it the next morning. More info on Bedikah Chametz here.

Next up is the Seders (only one is necessary if you are in Israel). The order of events is clearly laid out in the Haggadah [translation: telling], a short book that includes the entire service. The Seder is heavy on reading, singing, eating, drinking and ritual. There are many variations on the Haggadah available free online, including this.