Passover is about freedom from slavery. The Haggadah states, “We were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt, but God brought us out from there with a strong hand and an outstretched arm.” The freedom of Passover is not the freedom of anything goes, the freedom from work or school—it is, rather, the freedom to serve God together as the Jewish people. There are many practices that create this special service to God.
There are three central elements to the observance of Passover:
- Getting rid of, and not eating any chametz (leaven) during the 8 days of Passover
- Eating Matza
- Having a Seder
There are many, many details associated with the observance of Passover. My goal with this guide is to provide a basic reference for what to do and when, and a suggestion for sources of additional information.
5779 Timeline (see below for descriptions)
- Times are local for Birmingham, Alabama only!
- Deadline for submitting a sale of chametz form: 5 pm Thursday, April 18
- Bedikat Chametz: Thursday night, April 18
- Fast of the Firstborn: Friday, April 19, beginning at Dawn, 5:47 am. Rabbi Slater will hold a special Torah study, known as a Siyyum after minyan and burning chametz that morning at 8:45 am; attendance exempts the firstborn participant who would otherwise need to fast this day.
- Last time to Eat chametz is 4 hours after sunrise, 10:12 am, Friday, April 19.
- Last time to Burn chametz is 5 hrs after sunrise: 11:12 am, Friday, April 19.
- Seder Night: Friday, April 19: It is required to wait until sunset, which is 7:21 pm to begin the Seder, as the rabbis teach that eating matza and maror should be after dark.
- Second Seder: Saturday, April 20: Light Candles at 8:00 pm.
Note that since the second Seder is on Saturday night, you cannot start cooking until after Shabbat goes out at 8 pm. So you will want to have everything cooked ahead of time, so you simply reheat the food the night of the second Seder.
Chametz is leaven from one of the five species listed in the Torah: wheat, oats, barley, spelt or rye. We are forbidden to have chametz in our homes or in our possession during Passover. If one of these five grains is in contact with water for more than 18 minutes, it becomes chametz. Matza is not chametz because it finished baking within 18 minutes after it is mixed with water; hence it does not have the time to rise. The rabbis say that the puffed up chametz symbolizes our “puffed up” egos. Therefore as we clean our homes, in addition to ridding ourselves of the physical chametz, let’s think about how we may need to rid ourselves of our pride, i.e. our inflated sense of self-importance, and how we need to do Teshuva.
The rules about chametz are very serious: you are not allowed to eat, or own any chametz at all during the eight days of Passover.
The first step in getting rid of your chametz is to do a deep spring cleaning of the entire house. You don’t need to go overboard – neither the children nor the walls are chametz 😊 Remember to clean out every place where you might occasionally eat food, such as your car, office or bedroom, and clean out bags and purses that carry food.
You should use separate dishes that are only used for Passover that have never been used with chametz. Any fully metal silverware, pots or pans you want to use during Passover should be kashered by immersion in boiling water. In order to do this, please see the Passover Preparation Guide. Countertops can usually be cleaned through a thorough cleaning and pouring boiling water over them, a practice known as Irui. Ovens should be koshered by cleaning them out, and turning them up to full heat for 1 hour, or using the self-cleaning setting. Cupboards that contain non Passover dishes should be taped shut to remind you not to use them.
Selling our Chametz (Mechirat Chametz). Any chametz you need to keep beyond Pesach due to significant financial loss, (such as whiskey, or very large quantities), should be put in a box or bag and placed in a designated, separate location, such as a closet, or storage shed. If you fill out the form provided, I will sell this chametz for you: it will technically be owned by a non-Jew during Passover. Please note that any alcohol made from one of the five species is chametz, and needs to be set aside and sold during Passover. No beer or whiskey during Pesach!
Searching for Chametz (Bedikat Chametz). Once your house is ready, you can conclude it with the final search for chametz. On the night before the Seder, April 18t, we take a feather and a candle, and search the house for any leftover chametz. It is customary to put out 10 wrapped pieces of bread to collect and burn in the morning. If you look in any Haggadah, you will find the Beracha.
Burning our Bread (Biur Chametz) At 8 am, the morning of Erev Pesach, April 19t, we burn our chametz. Please join us at Temple Beth El front parking lot, for a fun morning to burn our last chametz. Bring the kids, its it’s fun!
Eating Matza on Passover is a separate, specific commandment. To make sure we have an appetite for matza at the seder, it is forbidden to eat matza during the day on Erev Pesach, during the day before the seder. At the seder we eat matza, and as called for in the Haggadah we recite a special bracha regarding the commandment to eat matza. It is preferable, but not mandatory, to use Shmira Matza, matza which has been guarded every step of the way, for fulfilling this mitzvah at the seder. Shmira Matza is usually available at any store selling Passover foods. Warning: the handmade Shmira Matza is definitely “the bread of affliction!” You should not use egg matza to fulfill the mitzvah of eating matza at the Seder.
The Seder is, of course, the heart of the Passover experience. We are commanded to tell the story in such a way that we will feel that we ourselves were brought out of Egypt by God. If everyone falls asleep or can’t wait to get to the food, you have not properly fulfilled the mitzvah.
The key to having a seder where people will feel as if they lived through the experience is to be creative. The person leading the seder should definitely do some planning as to how he/she wants the seder to go. It is worthwhile to look at a variety of Haggadot with commentaries to find interesting ideas to bring into your seder. Some things you can do to help enliven your seder:
Act out the plagues—use props, like ping pong balls for hail. Have first born people sitting at the table do a dying act.
Dress like you are about to go on trip. Have a suitcase sitting near the table.
Tell the story in the first person.
While it is good for everyone to have the same Haggadah for following along, it is also good for people to have different Haggadot so that they can share different commentaries during the Seder.
The Basic Seder. It is not mandatory to read every single word in the Haggadah. It’s not even necessarily recommended. The basic seder requirements are listed below. There is always tension between the tradition which says, “the one who expands on the Passover story is praiseworthy” and the tradition which focuses on the fifth question: “When do we eat?” If you recite the following selections from your Haggadah and skip the rest, you will meet the minimum requirement and you will be eating about an hour after you start.
Before the Meal:
- Signposts of the Seder: Kadesh Urchatz
- First Cup: Kiddush
- Dips: Karpas
- Breaking the Matza: Yachatz
- The Story of the Matza: Ha Lachma
- Four Questions: Ma Nishtana
- Storytelling-“We were slaves”: Avadeem Hayeenu
- Four Children
- The Promise: V’hee She-am-da
- The Tale of the Wandering Jew
- Ten Plagues
- Explaining Pesach, Matza, Maror
- “In every generation”
- Psalm 114: Hallel
- Second Cup
- Eating Matza, Maror and Korech
After the Meal:
- Blessing after Eating: Barech
- Third Cup
- Elijah’s Cup
- Fourth Cup
- Songs: Echad Mee Yo-dei-a; Chad Gad-ya
- Next Year in Jerusalem: La-Shana Haba-a
Fast of the First-Born. In memory of the plague of the firstborn that brought our people freedom, it is traditional for firstborns to fast during the day before the Seder, April 19t, from dawn till the Seder meal. In lieu of fasting, you are welcome to join us for a brief Torah study on the practices of Passover at 8:45 am April 19.
The first days and the last days are all Passover Holidays on which nearly all work that is forbidden on Shabbat is forbidden. In the Diaspora, our tradition is to hold Seders in our homes on both the first and second nights. This special time, allows us to connect both with family and with community respectively on different nights. The final two days of Passover should be observed fully, much like on Shabbat. However on Yom Tov, it is permitted to a) transfer flame from an existing flame, b) cook food, and c) carry objects in the public domain. Use these days to go on a spiritual “retreat” at home with your close friends or family.
Kitniyot. Ashkenazi Jews have the custom of not eating kitniyot (legumes) during Passover. Rabbi Slater agrees with a responsa (Jewish legal opinion) that permits Ashkenazim to eat kitniyot during Passover. However if you have inherited a tradition of not eating Kitniot, Rabbi Slater strongly recommends maintaining it. You can see the Rabbinic Teshuva at https://www.rabbinicalassembly.org/sites/default/files/assets/public/halakhah/teshuvot/2011-2020/Levin-Reisner-Kitniyot.pdf
Please use Rabbi Ethan Tucker’s Passover Preparation Guide to help you answer your more in depth questions regarding Passover observances and requirements. If there is a question that you cannot answer using the guide, please email Rabbi Stephen at email@example.com with a clearly worded question and all relevant circumstances.
Please find a collection of Passover Resources from the Rabbinical Assembly of Conservative Rabbis.
The Valley Beth Shalom Passover Haggadah. A beautiful Haggadah prepared by Valley Beth Shalom synagogue in Encino, CA can be found online or is available in our office.
For children and those young at heart, Rabbi Slater recommends A Night to Remember Haggadah by Mishael and Noam Tzion, featuring cartoons, fun layout, and thought provoking readings great for creating dynamic discussions at your Seder tables.