Known as Pesach in Hebrew, Passover commemorates God liberating Jews from slavery in ancient Egypt, and Moses leading them to their freedom.
Here’s everything you need to know about the festival, including how it is observed and when it will end in 2023.
When does Passover 2023 end?
Just like Easter in Christianity, the date of Passover changes from year to year in the Gregorian calendar, but it always begins on the 15th day of the Nisan – the first month of the ecclesiastical year and the seventh month of the civil year in the Hebrew calendar.
In 2023 it started on Monday 5 April, and will end on the evening of Thursday 13 April.
The Torah commands people observe Passover for seven days, which many worshippers in Israel follow, as well as Reform Jews and other progressive groups.
However, more conservative and Orthodox Jews celebrate it for eight days.
On the last day of Passover people traditionally recite special blessings or prayers, make a particular effort to visit a synagogue or listen to readings from the Torah, and eat a ceremonial meal.
What is the meaning behind Passover?
Passover’s name comes from the belief that God “passed over” the Jewish homes when killing the Egyptian firstborns in the story of Exodus.
The words Pesach and Passover can also refer to the Korban Pesach – the paschal lamb that was offered when the Temple in Jerusalem stood – the Passover Seder, which is the ritual meal eaten on Passover night, or to the Feast of Unleavened Bread.
According to the Book of Exodus, the children of Israel had been slaves in Egypt for 210 years, and God promised that he would release them.
This would only come after Egypt’s Pharaoh had refused to free them and God had released 10 plagues on Egypt to demonstrate his power.
The story says God ordered Moses to tell the Israelites to mark lamb’s blood above their doors so that the Angel of Death would pass over them.
After the death of the firstborns, the Pharaoh ordered the Israelites to leave, and requested Moses bless him in the name of the Lord.
The story goes that the Israelites left without enough time for their bread to rise, which is why unleavened bread is eaten at Passover.
The Pharaoh later changed his mind and ordered his army to chase down the Israelites, but God granted Moses the power to part the Red Sea, allowing them to cross. When the Egyptians attempted to follow, the sea crashed down again, drowning them.
How is Passover observed?
One of the most important traditions is getting rid of all leavened products from one’s household and abstaining from them for the duration of the festival – this means only unleavened bread is eaten.
Traditionally, for the first two nights of Passover, families and friends gather for a religious feast called Seder – Hebrew for “order” – reflecting how it is served in an order set out in the Passover Haggadah, a Jewish instructional text.
During the gathering, worshippers recall the liberation of the Israelites in the Book of Exodus, while also sharing a series of six symbolic dishes.
These include the bitter Maror herbs, which symbolise the harsh struggle of the Jews in slavery, and the roasted lamb or goat of the Zeroa, reflecting the Passover sacrifices traditionally offered at the Temple in Jerusalem.
Vegetables are also dipped in salt water to symbolise the tears Jews shed while they were enslaved.
The Encyclopedia Britannica says: “Passover is often celebrated with great pomp and ceremony, especially on the first night, when a special family meal called the Seder is held. At the Seder, foods of symbolic significance commemorating the Hebrews’ liberation are eaten, and prayers and traditional recitations are performed.
“Though the festival of Passover is meant to be one of great rejoicing, strict dietary laws must be observed, and special prohibitions restrict work at the beginning and end of the celebration.”
How to say Happy Passover in Hebrew
“Sameach Pesach” is a Hebrew translation for “Happy Passover”.
This is pronounced differently to English – with the “ch” sound a raspy noise that should come from the back of the throat.
The words are also flipped back to front – so it’s spoken “sah-MEY-akh PAY-sock” but written “Pesach Sameach”.
There are other things you can say as well. Sometimes people will drop the “Pesach” and instead say “Chag Sameach” which means “Happy Festival”.
This can be used for most Jewish holidays, but is often used during Passover, Sukkot, and Shavu’ot, which are technically the only religious festivals.
Alternatively, you could opt for the impressive “Chag kasher v’sameach”, pronounced “KHAGH kah-SHEHR vuh-sah-MEY-akh”.
This roughly translates as: “Have a happy and kosher holiday.”
“Chag Kashruth Pesach” is a Passover specific greeting, which means: “Have a happy kosher Passover.”