Chapter Twelve

How the Jews prepare for and celebrate their Passover

So far we have heard how the Jews behave every week from day to day, and conduct themselves in a chaste and pious manner. Now we want to examine with what ceremonies and solemnities they celebrate their main feast days in a good Jewish manner. They have several high and main feasts on which, a long time ago, they used to travel from all over towards Jerusalem to appear before the Lord. These were the Feast of the Paschal Lamb, the Feast of Weeks or Pentecost, and the Feast of Foliage-huts. These three feasts are called generally Schaloseh Regálim in the second book of Moses. Besides that, they have other feast-days which they celebrated at the place where they lived, which were called Jamim tobhim, good days, and were celebrated differently.

The first among all their feasts is the feast of the Paschal lamb, called Pesach, and they begin to count the feasts of the year with it, as God had ordered them in the law which is written Ex. 12.2: this moon shall be your first moon, and with it you shall start your year. Therefore the first day of the moon Nisan, that is, when the March moon becomes new, the new year of the feasts starts. But they start the general year on the first day of Tisri, or the autumn moon, that is when the autumn moon becomes new. Therefore you read in the Talmud, in the tractate about the New Year, at the beginning, the following: Arbaah rásche Schánim hen, that is, four different New Years exist: On the first day of the moon Nisan or March is the New Year of the Kings, and the feasts. On the first day of Elul, or the new moon in August, is the New Year of the animal-tithe. On the first day of Tisri, or the autumn new moon, is the New Year of the years, the release or jubilee-year, the planting of all kinds of trees and herbs. On the first day of Schebhat or the eleventh new moon, is the New Year of the trees, although Rabbi Hillel taught his pupils that it starts on the fifteenth day. So far the Talmud. This is to be understood thus. The year of the Kings is the one by which they count the years of the reign of their kings in all their contracts, documents, public instruments and letters. Therefore, even if the new king was chosen only one month, a week, or even a day before March, then his reign was counted for the whole year, and the new year of his reign started again next March. Also, the new moon in March is the start of the feasts or months after which they count their feasts and holy days. Therefore Passover is always in the first month, the feast of foliage huts in the seventh, in autumn, and so on. Therefore the start of the August moon is the year with which they start to count the young animals when they come, so they may be able to give the proper tenth of it, or tithe. Third, the first day of the autumn moon is the start of the years. From this day on, they count their years since the creation of the world, and their years are counted from this month on. They also counted from this month on the time of the release or rest year, which was the seventh year, and they let their fields and vineyards rest. The start of the jubilee year was the fiftieth year, which is discussed in the twenty-fifth chapter of the third book of Moses. They would count the years in which they planted young trees and herbs, and they would count the years of uncleanness correctly. If a tree was planted in June, the first year would be over in August, and the next year would start in the autumn month, and therefore the young tree was thought of as uncircumcised and unclean for three years, as is discussed in the third book of Moses, chapter 19. Then the first of the eleventh moon, or as Rabbi Hillel wanted it, the fifteenth day of that moon, which is our January, is the new year of the trees and their fruits; namely, if the trees, before or after this day, show buds and sprout, according to that their fruits were allowed to be eaten or not and according to that the tenth was given. If some trees sprout before this month such as dates, lemons, and similar early trees, and they brought fruit, from these trees it was allowed to eat before January; but the ones that just show buds on that day, and bring their fruits forth that year, were not allowed to be eaten, until after January fifteenth. Therefore they did not give the tenth from the fruits of trees which sprouted before the first or fifteenth of January, but for the ones that sprout after that date they had to give the tenth. This all is discussed at length in Talmud in the appropriate places. Antonius Margerita also writes in his book about the Jewish faith, that all the Jews write that on the fifteenth day of January the trees usually get their first sap, also that the seeds in apples and pears turn round on this day, as you can see if you cut one open. They also write in their German Minhagim that in the month of Schbhat you should not slaughter a goose, because there is an evil hour therein, when you will die if you slaughter a goose. If someone did it unknowingly, you should give him the liver of the goose, and then he will be out of danger, as Rabbi Jehuda chasid has taught. But this is enough about the different New Years of the Jews. Now we will go back to the previous subject, and see how they prepare for Passover, which is the first high feast, and from then on all other feasts are counted.

Thirty days previously, the rich Jews get ready with good wheat for their unleavened bread for Passover. They also give to the poor Jews, so that they also may be able to bake unleavened bread, because some may not be able to buy any wheat. [The Hebrew expression for this, ma'ot hittim, means "wheat money."] The whole month of Nisan (which starts, as we said, on the new moon of our March) the grown-up Jews do not fast; however, the first-born children fast on the evening before Passover, as we will report later.

The closest sabbath before Passover is very holy for them. They hold a long sermon and lecture about the paschal lamb and its customs, and call it Schabbas haggadol, the great Sabbath, because of a miracle which happened some time ago in the following way. In the second book of Moses it is written 12.3: On the tenth day of this moon, each house-father shall take a lamb, yea, a lamb for each house, and they shall keep it until the fourteenth day of that moon. About this the Rabbis write thus: Our fathers took their lambs on the tenth day, and bound them to their bedsteads to keep them until the fourteenth day. When the Egyptians saw this, they asked what they would do with their tied up lambs. The Israelites answered: we will schächt them for the Korban Pesach, that is, butcher them for the paschal offering. It pained the Egyptians very much that they would kill and butcher the animal which they revered as a god in their sight (because the sign of Aries was the god of the Egyptians) and they thought evil of the Israelites. Then God allowed a miracle to happen, in which the hearts of the Egyptians were struck with fear, so they could neither speak nor think evil against the Israelites. They write further that Moses answered Pharoah and said Ex. 8.22: It is not proper to do something distasteful in the eyes of the Egyptians (namely, they thought it was distasteful to kill a lamb because they revered it as a god.) If we sacrifice it for the Lord our God, they will stone us. At this point God captured the hearts of the Egyptians and struck them with fear, so that they could not do anything to the Israelites. Because of that great miracle which happened on that sabbath, the tenth day, they call it the Great Sabbath.

In the second book of Moses is written Ex. 13.7: Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread, and no leaven or leavened bread shall be seen in all your places. Therefore the Jews conclude first, that they should look for all leaven or leavened bread, that is, all unclean containers, which were used all year round in the house, should be cleaned and scraped or thrown out, and, secondly, that they will have a new fresh meal of unleavened bread for their Passover feast.

Therefore they start at least two or three days before Passover to clean and scrape all household utensils each to its own need. They take the jom tobh, the big kettle used for holy days, fill it up with water, put it over the fire until the water boils, then they put all their tin and wooden utensils in after they have cleaned them. After that they rinse them with cold water, and then they are cascher and right. Whatever cannot be put in because of shape or size, like tubs, chairs, benches, tables, and that sort of thing, they take a red-hot iron or stone with tongs, hold it over the object, pour water over it so that the water will spray and pour down on it, and it is then washed off with plenty of water to make it cascher and right. A kneading-trough, after it is washed thoroughly, is whitewashed outside and placed in a special room. Big kettles, after they are cleaned, are filled with boiling water, and three red-hot irons are thrust in, so that the water overflows. It is then rinsed with cold water. For their tin and similar containers they use two tongs, with one they put the iron in the hot water, with the other they pull it out, so that the spot which the first tongs covered may be covered by the water too. Iron utensils like grills, forks, iron covers, baking pans and such, they put in the fire until sparks fly from it, then they are right. They fill an iron mortar with glowing coals, and tie a string around it. When the string breaks the mortar is right. A stone mortar should, if possible, be new hewn. To sum it up: all utensils and containers should be clean, and no remnants of the old leaven should be left. Whoever eats his Passover meal from an unclean container commits as big a sin as if he slept with a woman who is niddah or unclean. Not without reason Christ the Lord said Mark 7.2: You left God's commandment and kept human laws. You do a lot of washing jugs, and pitchers, and similar things. You left God's laws, in order to keep your own. Matthew 23.13: Woe to you, you scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites, you are keeping your bowls and cups clean outside, but inside they are full of uncleanness. You are like the whitewashed graves, which look good from the outside, but inside they are full of dead bones. This is the same with you, from the outside you seem to other people to be pious, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and vice.

The following is how they look for and clear out the Chametz or old leavened bread. The night before Passover eve, each Baal bais or house-father takes a bowl, and a small handbroom. He lights a candle, and before he starts to look he prays: Praised be you, God our God, King of the world, that you have blessed us with your laws, and ordered us to clear out the leaven. In a big house in which there are many rooms, the house-father takes a few boys and men with him (but no women, because they are lazy and gossip too much, and therefore not fit to search) who say "Amen" to his prayer and then help him look. Each one has a wax candle in his hand, with which they look into all the mouseholes and cracks to see if there are breadcrumbs which the mice have not eaten up. Nobody is required to look and search higher than he can reach; especially if your wall borders on the wall of a Christian, you are not to shed light into holes and cracks, because the Christian might think he wants to set the house on fire. But if it borders on another Jew's house he sheds light as far as he can.

Candles made from animal fat are not used, because they drip too much and the room would be made unclean again with new Chametz.

Sometimes they drop a few breadcrumbs on purpose in a room which they think is clean, so that they may not look and search in vain. The breadcrumbs have to be old and hard though, or else it is not valid.

They hide the bread for that evening meal, so it may not be found by searchers, otherwise it would be considered old leaven, and would have to be burned, and they would have nothing to eat for that evening.

They must not talk between the blessing and the search, except for something necessary for the search, such as "Open the door," or "Shed light here."

They guard carefully whatever leaven they find until the morning, and cover it well, lest a mouse should come and drag something away. This would make them have to examine and search the whole house again. For this reason, in the evening, they eat in a corner and are careful to drop no leaven, or very little, so as not to make the whole house unclean again.

When the father of the house has completed his search, he says: Col chamira, etc., that is: All leaven that is in my authority, which I have not seen and have not cleared away, should be considered as the dust of the earth.

On the next day, the eve of Passover, they begin baking the Matzos, the unsalted, unleavened cakes.

The flour for these cakes should be ground at least three days ahead, so that it may not be warm, and thereby cause premature leavening. Where possible, the millstones should be newly hewn, and covered with clean white cloths, or, if old cloths must be used, they should be well shaken out. They are usually damp, and the flour could easily fall into the new, unsalted Passover flour. The flour bin should be lined with fresh white linen, so that no tiny particles of the other flour will be mixed in.

The water used for this dough is called Mitzvah water. It is drawn and kept in special containers used only for the festival, and is done between day and night, when the sun goes down, but the stars have not yet appeared. When it is taken home it must be covered. Then for twenty-four hours no sunshine should reach this water. That is, in the twelve hours of the day when the sun is over the earth it is not in the spring, and in the twelve hours of the night it is covered, and so for twenty-four hours the sun cannot reach it. Each Baal bais, father of the house, should draw the water personally, and not consider himself too cháschubh, important, for at one time even a king of Israel would himself carry the Biccurim, the first fruits, on his shoulders. When they begin to knead, the father of the house says: All pieces which fall from this dough are Patur, free. That is, if something falls on the ground and becomes leavened, [because baking must occur within a certain time] that is for the mice, and is no longer under the authority of the Jews. They knead in a cool place, where no sun comes, and also distant from the oven, lest the dough become warm and rise.

The woman takes a special piece of the dough, which is called Challah in the Law, makes a cake of it, and says: Praised be you, God our God, that you have commanded us to separate an unleavened cake, as it is written in the Law Lev. 8.26: [Moses] took from the basket of unleavened bread before the Lord an unleavened cake, etc. Therewith she throws this cake or Challah onto the glowing coals, or into the oven, before the other cakes come therein, so that it may be completely burned up.

Thereafter she makes the unsalted, unleavened cakes which they will eat for Passover. They are usually round, and punctured full of holes made with an iron implement like a comb, so that they may stay airy, and not become leavened.They are put quickly into the oven, so that they should not remain for a long time. These cakes are unsalted and without added fat, usually made only with clear water, and not very pleasant to eat. For this reason some pious women add eggs to the dough, so that this unsalted bread is more pleasant to eat. I have heard too that some rich Jews have it mixed with ground almonds, not just in honor of the feast, but because it makes it tastier and easier to masticate.

Thereafter, prior to the fifth hour of the day, that is around ten o'clock, they eat their midday meal. But they do not eat much, and only easily digestible foods, then nothing more until the stars appear, so that they will be able to eat the unsalted bread at night with greater pleasure. If someone is thirsty, he should not drink too much water, but rather a good draught of wine, which gives him an appetite and a desire to eat for the night.

As soon as they have eaten, they make a fire under the sky, and burn the leaven which they searched out and found the previous night, and the father of the house says: Col chamira vechamia, etc. all fermented matter and leaven which is under my authority, which I have seen or not seen, which I have removed or not removed, shall be annulled and considered as the dust of the earth.

The first-born fast on the eve of Passover from morn till night because God long ago protected the Israelite first-born from the angel of death, and did not kill them. After midday they do not work. Rather they bathe, and it is not forbidden to get new clothes from the tailor, so that they may put them on in honor of the feast.

Christ says: Be careful of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees, that is, their false teaching and hypocrisy.


Go to next chapter
Go to list of chapters
Go back to Home Page
Alan D. Corré
corre@uwm.edu