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Passover (Pesach in Hebrew) is one of the most important festivals in the Jewish year. At this time Jewish people remember how the children of Israel left slavery behind them when they were led out of Egypt by Moses over 3000 years ago.

Jews have celebrated Passover since about 1300 BC, following the rules laid down by God in the book of Exoduds. The story is told in the animated film, 'The Prince of Egypt'.


The story of Passover is told in the Book of Exodus.

The Children of Israel had been slaves in Egypt for over 200 years. God promised he would release them from slavery, but each time Moses asked, Pharaoh refused their release. Moses warned Pharaoh that God would send terrible plagues on Egypt if Pharaoh did not let them go, but still Pharaoh would not relent.

The first nine plagues were:

The plague of blood: God turned the water of the River Nile into blood so that the fish died and the water stank. All the water in Egypt was turned into blood.

The plague of frogs: Egypt was overrun with frogs - there were frogs in the beds, frogs in the ovens, and frogs jumping on the people.

The plague of lice: Dust was turned into lice which crawled on people and animals. (The Bible calls this the plague of gnats, but in Judaism the accepted translation of the Hebrew word kinim is lice).

The plague of flies: Swarms of flies arrived in Egypt and poured into Pharaoh's palace, the houses of his officials, and all over the land.

The plague on livestock: All animals belonging to the Egyptians died - horses, donkeys, camels, cattle, sheep and goats.

The plague of boils: Festering boils broke out on the Egyptian people and their livestock.

The plague of hail: The worst hailstorm ever to hit Egypt struck, beating down crops growing in the fields and even killing people and animals caught in it.

The plague of locusts: A swarm of locusts settled in Egypt and devoured anything left growing after the hail.

The plague of darkness: Egypt became totally dark for three days.

The final plague was the death of the first born. God told Moses that the Israelites should mark their doorposts with lamb's blood so that God could 'pass over' their houses and spare them from this plague. This is why the festival is called Passover.

Eventually Pharaoh gave in and told Moses and the Israelites to go at once. They left in such a rush that their bread did not have time to rise. This is why, during Passover, Jewish people eat unleavened bread called Matzah.


The celebrations last for seven or eight days, depending on where you live.

Some families clean their houses thoroughly to remove all crumbs of chametz (leaven). This remembers the Jews leaving Egypt who did not have time to let their bread rise. In many Jewish homes children enjoy taking part in a ritual search for any specks of leaven left behind

At sundown, on the evening before the Passover begins, a special service called a Seder takes place over a meal at home with family and friends. The Seder plate on the table consists of:

A lamb bone

A roasted egg

A green vegetable to dip in salt water

Bitter herbs made from horseradish

Charoset (a paste of chopped apples, walnuts and wine)


On the table, there are three Matzot (unleavened bread) on top of each other. At the start of the Seder, the middle Matzah is broken and the largest piece is hidden. During the Seder the children hunt for it. The one who finds it receives a small prize.

Four small glasses of wine are drunk to represent the four expressions of freedom which refer to the Israelites being brought out of slavery. The wine symbolises joy and happiness. An extra cup of wine is placed on the table and the door is left open for Elijah. Jews believe that the prophet Elijah will reappear to announce the coming of the Messiah and will do so at Pesach.

During the evening the story of how the Israelites fled from Egypt is retold from a book called the Haggadah ('Narration'). Everyone at the Seder each has a cushion to lean on. This is to remind them that they are now free people, no longer slaves. Everybody takes part in reading the Haggadah, some in Hebrew and some in English, and many songs are sung.

One tradition at those Seders is the asking by the youngest child of the four questions that answer “Why does this night differ from all other nights?”

1) For on all other nights we eat either leavened or unleavened bread; why on this night only unleavened bread?
2) On all other nights we eat all kinds of herbs; why on this night only bitter herbs?
3) On all other nights we need not dip our herbs even once; why on this night must we dip them twice?
4) On all other nights we eat either sitting up or reclining; why on this night do we all recline?

The answers, which give a spiritual interpretation to the customs, are then recited in unison by the guests.

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