There are hundreds and hundreds of laws concerning the holiday of Pesach and not a small number of customs that vary from community to community. The following are a number of customs that are, on the whole, lesser-known. It is always interesting to learn of different customs and to enrich one’s knowledge of different practices observed by different people in the Jewish religion.
- In Yemen, there was a custom to use the Lulav, Aravot and Hadassim (three of the four species used on the festival of Sukkot that occurs six months before the festival of Pesach) as fuel for the oven when baking Shmura Matzah (a special type of Matzah, the unleavened bread eaten on Pesach, that is carefully watched from the minute it is harvested until it is baked to make sure that it doesn’t come in to contact with any moisture). Additionally, Jews from Morocco, Syria and Baghdad would use the Lulav for both burning the leavened bread (as is customary before the start of the Pesach festival) and for baking Matzah.
- Hassidic Jews and Moroccan Jews wear a kittel at Seder night. A Kittel is a white robe that serves as a burial shroud for male Jews. There are a number of reasons given for this custom but on the simplest level, white is a symbol of joy at a time of festivals and weddings.
- Hungarian Jews would decorate their Seder tables with gold and silver. The explanation given for this custom is that this is in remembrance of the gold and silver that the Israelites received from the Egyptians on leaving Egypt.
- Yemenite Jews would often leave their doors open on Seder night as they believed that the redemption would come on that night and they left the door open so as to allow them to exit swiftly in order to greet the Messiah.
- Libyan and Tunisian Jews would not allow strangers into their houses on the first two days of Pesach. There are different explanations provided for this custom. One explanation is that this custom originates from times when the Jewish people would observe Pesach in secret and would therefore not allow strangers to enter their houses out of fear that informers would enter and spy on them. On the other hand, there are those who say that this custom was due to the fact that the Paschal lamb was to be eaten only by those who joined a specific paschal group.
What is Matzah?
Matzah is a cracker-like, unleavened bread made of white flour and water eaten by Jewish people on Passover instead of bread. It is pricked all over and is not given enough time to rise when baked. Indeed the time taken from the moment the flour touches the water until the Matzah enters the oven must not exceed eighteen minutes. The sages concluded that after eighteen minutes the dough ferments making the dough rise and ultimately forbidden to a Jewish person on the festival of Passover.
Leavened products are forbidden on Passover and there is a positive commandment to eat Matzah on the first night of the festival of Passover which falls on the fourteenth day of the Hebrew month of Nissan, during the spring.
What does Matzah symbolize?
- A historical explanation for Matzah is linked to the fact the festival of Passover commemorates the Jewish Exodus from Egypt. As the Jewish people hastened to leave, the bread that they had prepared for the journey didn’t have time to rise, resulting in Matzah.
- Matzah is also regarded as “poor man’s bread”. Despite the fact that the first night of Passover is a remembrance of the redemption from Egypt, the Matzah symbolizes the fact that the Jewish people must never forget their suffering, how it felt to be the underdog. The act of eating Matzah essentially enhances one’s appreciation of freedom.
- Alternatively, Matzah has become a primary symbol of the Seder night (the first night of Passover) since the Paschal lamb offering, the original primary symbol of Passover ceased to exist. The Paschal lamb offering was offered up in the Temple in Jerusalem but since the destruction of the Temple such offerings are forbidden. Indeed, the Afikoman (the last portion of Matzah eaten at the Seder) is eaten in place of the Paschal lamb. The Afikoman is placed in a special case, of which many beautiful examples can be found at our Afikoman covers– product page.
- Matzah undergoes special treatment to ensure there is no leaven. Every Matzah is perforated using an instrument called a reidel. This prevents any rising of the dough. Many view this process as symbolic of the need to eliminate pride and arrogance from our personalities.
- The Matzah on the Seder Table on the first night of Passover is often placed on a specially designated plate or tray that beautifies the ceremony. Click to follow to our Matzah Plates and trays and make this year’s festival that bit more special.