That’s the definition I see on one online dictionary.
Hey, Passover is the palooza of Judaism, with surveys indicating that about three fourths of Jewish people join in with a Seder. And it’s something hundreds of thousands of Christians celebrate in very real ways as well. Passover isn’t just for Jews anymore. And in the Jewish community, my experience is tons of people have little or no idea what they’re doing at Passover.
That means there are now a lot of people who want to celebrate Passover who need some serious information.
The internet is filled with such information, but this post is my way of passing on some of the best links, books, and tips for a variety of groups with a variety of needs. I’ll give some pointers for Christians who want to celebrate. I’ll also share some tips and inspiration for Messianic and mainstream Jewish folk who’d like to grow in their observance.
STEP ONE ON THE ROAD TO SINAI
Passover is a huge and complicated topic. It is a sea of information and we live in an age where people can usually only take a few drops at a time.
So don’t try to learn it all in one year.
Step one is something many people don’t take the time to do — read the Biblical texts:
–Exodus 1-13 has the main story and the laws, from the birth of Moses to the plagues to the saving of the firstborn.
–Leviticus 23:4-8 is about the festival rites in Temple times.
–Deuteronomy 6:20-25 and 26:5-11 are important for understanding parts of the Haggadah, as well as Joshua 24:2.
–Numbers 28:16-25 is about the offerings of Passover.
–The three synoptic gospels all have Passover-Last Supper sections: Mark 14:12-26; Matthew 26:17-30; Luke 22:7-23.
–You might also be interested in a letter of Paul addressing Passover issues allegorically: 1 Corinthians 5:6-8.
If you are a Christian and want to keep it simple, get The Messianic Passover Haggadah by Barry and Steffi Rubin (it’s on amazon). It is affordable, simple, and easy for Christians to understand.
If you are a Christian and you want to go deeper, which I recommend only if you have some Passover experience, get The Vine of David Haggadah which is available at ffoz.org. It is a full traditional Haggadah with Messianic Jewish insertions. I reviewed it here on February 19.
If you are Messianic Jewish, I recommend using The Vine of David Haggadah as well as having a number of other haggadahs and commentaries. You will want a solid, traditional Haggadah with a little commentary. I love the one pictured on this post, A Passover Haggadah by Elie Wiesel (author of Night and many other books, including a new one on Rashi, and Holocaust survivor). Artscroll has several great haggadahs.
If you have kids and if Passover seems too long for you and too hard to do the whole thing with the kids being bored, I recommend you get an abridged Haggadah such as Family Haggadah: A Seder For All Generations by Eli Gindi. It takes you through Passover in a half hour (not counting the meal time). And the pictures are great.
If you want the best Passover pictures ever (!!!), get The Katz Passover Haggadah (it’s worth it just for the center spread showing the parting of the sea).
Research and study and plan before Passover. it doesn’t matter if you are leading the Seder or not. Know your Haggadah. If you are busy, start at least a few weeks ahead and read five minutes of Haggadah a day.
You will find, especially if your are new to this, that the Haggadah is confusing, filled with puzzles. Welcome to Judaism 101. Welcome to the beginning of a rich and rewarding intellectual journey.
When you are ready for more, get The JPS Commentary on the Haggadah (which I and many other bloggers are writing about in March, since it is this month’s J-BOM selection). When you are ready for a lot more, get My People’s Passover Haggadah, volumes 1 and 2, by Lawrence Hoffman and David Arnow.
Decide how observant you are going to be at Passover and plan your food and order of service.
The big questions you have to decide about include:
–What is leaven and how do I avoid it?
–How kosher do I want to be?
–What foods will I serve and where will I get recipes?
–How long do I want my Seder to last?
Here are some pointers and links. First, regarding the definition of leaven, I started from and very self-made point of view, disdaining Jewish tradition. I defined leaven in those days as something containing yeast or baking soda. I had no idea the Manischewitz brownies for Passover contain baking soda! I didn’t understand leaven at all.
Ancient breadmaking did not involve the purchase of packets of yeast from the local supermarket (just in case you didn’t know that). It involved the use of fermented dough or other kinds of yeast starters. The fact is, when flour gets wet, it begins quickly to ferment and yeast develops. The rabbis set a limit of 18 minutes on how long flour can be wet before it is leavened. That is why Passover matzahs are specially labeled. The matzah factories have to retool for Passover and have their bread finished within 18 minutes of the time the dough is moistened. Why 18 minutes? Because eighteen is the numerical value of chai (pronounced khigh), which means life. Eighteen is a number that comes up again and again in Jewish life.
Thus, in Judaism, anything made from the five grains (wheat, oats, spelt, rye, and barley) is leaven (chametz) except matzah or products made with a kosher for Passover label.
And then there is the issue of rice, beans, and corn. I personally look for the day when we make these kosher for Passover again. I think this is an example of the worst side of Orthodox strictures, since it wasn’t until the 1500’s (with the Shulchan Aruch) that kitniyot (rice, beans, and corn) were added to the list of leavened items (it has to do with crops and the possibility that in ancient harvesting, some grain could be mixed in with rice, beans, and corn). But, for now, my rabbinical council says that unless you are Sephardic (Sephardic Jews can eat rice, beans, and corn at Passover), you need to follow the Ashkenazi tradition and avoid them (my rabbinical council is the MJRC found at ourrabbis.org).
Well, enough of my pointers. Here is a series of links about how to prepare a Passover, what leaven is all about, what kosher is all about, and so on:
Menu items for Passover: http://www.jewfaq.org/kfpfood.htm
Passover Recipes Galore: http://kosher4passover.com/recipes-list.htm
What is leaven (chametz)? Note: you might not know beer and grain alcohol are included: http://www.chabad.org/library/howto/wizard_cdo/aid/1755/jewish/1-What-is-Chametz.htm
What is kosher? http://www.jewfaq.org/kashrut.htm
For those who are not kosher, but want to be partially kosher for Passover out of respect, here is an explanation of kosher style (I recommend Christians do it this way): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kosher_style
A plan for the fully observant: http://judaism.about.com/od/passover/a/prep_steps.htm
A set of links with tons of information: http://judaism.about.com/od/passoverwebsites/Passover_Seder_Resources.htm
Wikipedia on the Seder and Haggadah: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Passover_Seder
A FEW MORE THOUGHTS
In coming days I will have articles on many more Passover topics. We’ll explore some issues in the Haggadah, especially in the J-BOM posts in March, where we are discussing The JPS Commentary on the Haggadah. We’ll also explore the Last Supper, the crucifixion, and the confusing and problematic issue of the timing of Passover and Yeshua’s death and resurrection.
Don’t try to learn Passover in one year. It is a lifetime study, believe me.
Enjoy the journey. Don’t worry too much about reaching the destination.
One of the great truths emphasized in Judaism is that study is not about having the answers, but about the transforming work it does in us, making us closer to God as we fill our minds with godly things.
Let Passover be an annual intellectual and spiritual retreat.