Lifelong Learning Programme

This project has been funded with support from the European Commission.
This web site reflects the views only of the author, and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.

Select language

This section of the Pathway through Religions portal provides administrative information for the project contractual partners and for the European Commission and it is password protected.


Homepage > Training Course > Celebrations

Description and comparative analysis of the celebrations of different religions and confessions


Table of Content

2.2. Pesach
Pesach, which commemorates the exodus of the children of Israel from Egypt, is the foundation story of Jewish peoplehood. The first major festival instituted in the Torah not only celebrates national liberation but dramatizes the critical belief, recurrent throughout the Bible, that God hears the cry of the oppressed.

The key events are narrated in Exodus chapters 12 and 13. As Pharaoh obdurately continues to resist the release of his Israelite slaves, God resolves to bring the last and most terrible of the Ten Plagues, the smiting of Egypt’s firstborn.

On the eve of their redemption, on the 14th of the month of Nisan, each Israelite household is instructed to roast a lamb at nightfall. They are to daub the animal’s blood on their doorposts as a sign to ensure that their own firstborn will escape harm. “I will pass over you and there shall be no plague on you to destroy you,” God says (Exodus 12.13) – hence the name of the festival, Pesach, “Passover”. The lamb is to be consumed “in haste”, with nothing left over till morning, and eaten with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. Since there is no time to let the dough rise, the bread must be unleavened. The bitter herbs symbolise the bitterness inflicted on the captive Israelites by their slave-masters (Exodus 1:14). When the plague strikes even the royal household, Pharaoh finally capitulates and the Israelites go free. As they make their escape, they are commanded to “observe this day” henceforth in every generation.

The commemoration of the festival covers the week from the Exodus to the Crossing of the Red Sea, where Pharaoh and the pursuing Egyptian chariots meet their doom. While Pesach lasts seven days in Israel and among Progressive Jews, traditional Jews in the diaspora keep it for eight. The first and seventh day are a Yom Tov in Israel and for Progressive Jews, when no work may be done, while Orthodox and Masorti communities in the diaspora observe Yom Tov on the first, second, seventh and eighth days. The most distinctive feature is to abstain from eating leavened foods, chametz, (made from the five species of grain associated with the land of Israel: wheat, barley, oats, spelt and rye). Instead, we re-enact the exigencies of the Exodus by making do with unleavened matzah, the “bread of affliction”, as it is dubbed in Deuteronony.

Pesach was originally a pilgrim festival and the paschal lamb was eaten in the precincts of the Temple in Jerusalem. But now the Temple no longer stands, lamb is not eaten at the Pesach meal and is instead symbolised by a roasted shankbone on the Seder plate. But bitter herbs remain one of the evocative tastes of Pesach. No festival involves so much preparation as Pesach because not only does the Torah command abstinence from leaven but it also stipulates that none shall be “found in your house”. The night before Pesach, the tradition is to scatter a few pieces of chametz around the house and collect them in a ceremonial search, using a feather, wooden spoon and candle (or torch). These are the formally burnt the next morning before the cut-off point when no chametz may no longer be consumed. The eve of Pesach is also the Fast of the Firstborn, which was instituted by the rabbis in gratitude of the deliverance of the firstborn Hebrews during the Tenth Plague.

Seder, religious meal served in Jewish homes on the 15th and 16th of the month of Nisan to commence the festival of Passover (Pesaḥ)

Reading prayers at dinner at Pesach

Students celebrate Passover Seder, connecting with students in Israel

Shomronim to begin Pesach celebration tonight

Seder plate. There are at least five foods that go on the seder plate: shank bone (zeroa), egg (beitzah), bitter herbs (maror), vegetable (karpas) and a sweet paste called haroset. Many seder plates also have room for a sixth, hazeret (another form of the bitter herbs). All of them are meant to remind of the primary theme of Passover: the Jewish people’s transition from slavery to freedom


The video shows how to hold a Pesach Seder (a Jewish ritual service and ceremonial dinner for the first night or first two nights of Passover)

Table of Content

Follow us


This project has been funded with support from the European Commission. This web site reflects the views only of the author, and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.