Pesach, or Passover, is a major holiday in Jewish tradition, and is one of the three pilgrimage holidays, along with Sukkot and Shavuot. These are the holidays on which the whole Jewish people would come to Jerusalem in ancient times, when the Holy Temple was there, and would offer animal and grain sacrifices. Since the destruction of the Temple, a few of the holiday traditions have been retained, without the pilgrimage and the sacrifices, and many new traditions have been added.
Pesach, which starts on the 15th day of the Hebrew month of Nisan (usually in April), lasts for seven days and is celebrated to commemorate the exodus from Egypt - one of the main stories in the history of the Jewish people and in western culture in general. According to the Torah, the Israelites lived in Egypt, and were enslaved by the Egyptians. Moshe (Moses), an Israelite who grew up in the palace of Pharaoh, the king of Egypt, became a leader of the Israelites and asked Pharaoh to allow them to return to the Land of Israel. When Pharaoh refused, Moshe led a campaign that culminated in his people’s hurried departure from Egypt, toward the Sinai desert, where they lived for 40 years. According to Jewish tradition, during this long journey in the desert, led by Moshe and his brother Aharon, the Israelites became a united people as they prepared to conquer the Land of Israel.
Pesach is also called the holiday of Freedom, and this aspect of the holiday is emphasized in the rituals and prayers: the exodus from slavery to freedom symbolizes physical and spiritual redemption and man’s aspiration to be free.
Another name for Pesach is the Holiday of Unleavened Bread. The story of the exodus from Egypt retells the story of how the Israelites left Egypt in a hurry and the dough they had prepared had no time to rise, so they baked it into matzah, unleavened bread. One of the important teachings of this holiday is the abstinence from eating leaven bread - any baked goods prepared with flour and allowed to rise, or prepared foods containing flour. Instead of bread, Jews eat matzah. Religious (and traditional) Jews observe this aspect of the holiday meticulously.
One more name for Pesach is the Holiday of Spring, marking the season in which Pesach is celebrated.
Prohibition on eating leaven - Throughout the seven-day holiday, the prohibition against eating leaven bread - called chametz - is in effect, in commemoration of the matzah that the Israelites ate on their hurried journey out of Egypt. The prohibition includes all types of bread and baked goods made of flour dough, and also all types of pasta.
Eating matzah - Matzah is flat bread made from unleavened dough. Apart from during the ceremonial Seder meal, eating matzah is not compulsory, but for most Israeli families (religious and traditional alike) matzah is the accepted alternative to bread throughout the holiday.
Biur chametz - the eradication of leaven bread- In the weeks prior to Pesach, Jews customarily clean their homes thoroughly to ensure that not one crumb of chametz remains. Non-religious Jews often use this custom as an opportunity to “spring-clean” their homes and create a holiday atmosphere. On the night before the day on which Pesach begins, it is customary among orthodox Jews to search in all the corners of the house by candlelight, to make sure there are no crumbs anywhere.
The Seder - This is a lengthy ceremonial meal held on the eve of the holiday (the evening before the first day of the holiday). The family gathers around the holiday table for the Seder - the reading of the Haggadah and the holiday meal. The Haggadah is a compilation of texts from Jewish tradition - passages from the Bible, from the Mishna, commentaries and songs, whose main theme is the exodus from Egypt. The purpose of the reading of the Haggadah is to transmit the Pesach tradition from one generation to the next. The rituals during the Seder are all symbolic, such as the eating of matzah and bitter herbs, the drinking of four goblets of wine, singing together, and of course the big meal.
Afikoman - It is customary to hide a special piece of matzah, called the Afikoman, somewhere in the house, and make the children find it. Whoever finds it usually gets a prize.
Mimouna: Customs and Information
On the evening after the seventh day of Pesach, which is a holy rest day, Jews of North African origin, particularly Morocco, celebrate Mimouna as part of the Pesach festivities. The origin of the celebrations is unclear, but is usually associated with the anniversary of the death of Rabbi Maimon ben Abraham, the father of the great medieval Rabbi Moses Maimonides (also known as Rambam).
On Mimouna night people go from house to house, visiting friends and relatives who are celebrating this holiday, and in neighborhoods where there is a large concentration of Moroccan Jews this house-to-house visiting lasts until late into the night. The following day is also devoted to family celebrations, to hospitality and visiting, and in many public places hundreds of celebrants gather for picnics.
Sweet foods - The festive meal is composed solely of sweet foods, in order to emphasize the hope for a sweet life: fruit preserves, cakes, marzipan and other homemade confections. Since these foods are made during Pesach, they are all made without flour or any other ingredient that is not kosher for Pesach.
Mufleta - this is the traditional Moroccan Mimouna food. As soon as Pesach is over, and chametz is again permitted, the women prepare a dough made of flour and yeast, which is spread in flat circles, fried in butter and served with honey. This is the first chametz eaten after Pesach, and the flour for it is purchased immediately after the end of the holiday.