Passover Begins at Sundown Friday: Jewish Festival of Freedom

Passover seder plate (slgckgc / Flickr / CC / Cropped)
slgckgc / Flickr / CC / Cropped

The Jewish festival of Passover begins Friday evening at sundown, marking the liberation of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt thousands of years ago — an event that every Jew is meant to observe as if he or she had personally experienced it.

The story of the holiday is told in the book of Exodus. A new Pharaoh, who did not recognize the prior contributions of Joseph to the salvation of Egypt, enslaves the Israelites and decrees that all their male babies be thrown into the Nile River.

In a paradox that would be echoed by antisemitic rulers for millennia, Pharaoh expresses the fear that Israelites would “join our enemies,” on the one hand; and that they would “depart from the land,” on the other.  (Exodus 1:10). (The contradictory nature of antisemitism was later noted by George Orwell, who noted that “the charges made against Jews are not true. They cannot be true, partly because they cancel out, partly because no one people could have such a monopoly of wickedness.”)

The people are freed after Egypt suffers ten plagues, including the death of all first-born males, not sparing Pharaoh’s own son. The Israelites avoid that grim fate by hosting a special feast and marking their doorways with the blood of a sacrificial lamb, causing the Angel of Death to pass over their homes (hence, “passover”). They leave Egypt hurriedly and pass through the Red Sea, then receive the Ten Commandments and the Torah at Mount Sinai, and later enter the Promised Land of Israel.

Passover seder (Joe Raedle / Getty)

MIAMI BEACH, FL – MARCH 25, 2018: Omri Brandes, Nitzan Brandes and Bentsi Brandes (L-R) eat during a community Passover Seder at Beth Israel synagogue on March 25, 2013 in Miami Beach, Florida. The community Passover Seder that served around 150 people has been held for the past 30 years and is welcome to anyone in the community that wants to commemorate the emancipation of the Israelites from slavery in ancient Egypt. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

The festival of Passover reprises that story through a festive meal called a seder (“order”), which has several distinct parts, each of which retells a part of the story of the Exodus, often through the eating of symbolic foods. The most widely known of theses is the unleavened bread known as matzah, which is eaten not just at the seder but throughout the seven days (eight, outside of Israel) of the holiday. The seder is accompanied by a text, the Haggadah, which is read by the participants.

Christians will recognize the association of Passover with Easter: the Last Supper was a Passover seder. The two holidays are often observed at the same time of year, for that purpose. This year, Passover coincides exactly with Good Friday and Easter.

Passover is also known as the Festival of Freedom or the Festival of Spring.

In traditional Jewish families, the seder is held on the first two nights; and the first two days of the holiday, and the last two days, are observed as holy days on which no work may be done. (In Israel, there is only one seder, and the first and last day alone are considered holy.) During the entire holiday, Jews typically do not consume any leavened bread or foods that do not have a special certification for Passover.

Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News and the host of Breitbart News Sunday on Sirius XM Patriot on Sunday evenings from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. ET (4 p.m. to 7 p.m. PT). He is the author of the recent e-book, Neither Free nor Fair: The 2020 U.S. Presidential Election. His recent book, RED NOVEMBER, tells the story of the 2020 Democratic presidential primary from a conservative perspective. He is a winner of the 2018 Robert Novak Journalism Alumni Fellowship. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.


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