Passover begins on the 15th day of the Jewish month of Nissan. It is one of the three major festivals with both historical and agricultural significance (the other two are Shavuot and Sukkot). Agriculturally, it represents the beginning of the harvest season in Israel, but little attention is paid to this aspect of the holiday. The primary observances of Pesach are related to the Exodus from Egypt after generations of slavery. This story is told in Exodus, Ch. 1-15.
The Hebrew name of the festival, Pesach, is derived from the Hebrew word pasach, which means “passed over,” which is also the source of the common English name for the holiday. It recalls the miraculous tenth plague when all the Egyptian firstborn were killed, but the Israelites were spared.
The Torah tells us that Passover is to be celebrated for seven days; Israeli Jews of all denominations and Reform Jews outside of Israel continue to observe seven days. Conservative, Orthodox, and Reconstructionist Jews outside of Israel observe eight days, stemming from the days before modern technology allowed us to predict the fixed calendar; to be sure that the festival did not end prematurely, an extra day was added as a cushion.
During the seven days of Passover, Jews try to refrain from eating leavened products such as bread, cakes, cookies, etc. Some Jews are even more strict in their observance, refraining from eating cereals, grains, and legumes. There are many Kosher for Passover products available these days that make it fairly easy to observe Passover kashrut. However you choose to observe, it is generally accepted practice to replace bread with matza during the week of Passover.
At Congregation Shalom, we join together for a congregational Seder (ritual meal meant to help us “experience” slavery and the Exodus) on the second night of Passover. Many families hold a Seder in their home or go to a Seder at the home of family or close friends on the first night of Passover. Learn more about Passover on the URJ website.