Passover food
Some foods prepared for a Passover Seder: (clockwise from top) unleavened bread, parsley, horseradish, charosetWikimedia Commons

IBTimesUK looks at Pesach, one of the most important Jewish festivities in the calendar.

History of Passover

Passover, or Pesach, commemorates the liberation of Israelites from slavery under the Egyptian Pharaoh.

According to the Book of Exodus in the Torah, Moses called for the Pharaoh to free the Israelites, and warned that if he failed to do so Egypt would be hit by terrible plagues, the last one of which would be the death of every Egyptian first-born male.

The Pharaoh refused despite Egyptians being subjected to nine plagues, including invasions by frogs and flies, a livestock blight and total darkness. According to the story, God than set to kill all Egyptian firstborn males.

Moses urged Jews to mark their doors with lamb's blood so that God could 'pass over' their houses and spare their firstborns.

The Pharaoh eventually relented and the Israelites fled Egypt.

Pesach comes from the Hebrew root Pei-Samekh-Cheit, and means to pass over, or to spare.

When is Passover Celebrated?

Passover begins on the 15th day of the Hebrew month of Nisan, which typically falls in March or April of the Gregorian calendar.

This year, Passover started on 14 April and will end on 22 April.

How do Jews celebrate?

Passover is divided into two parts: On the first two days and last two days, Jewish people light holiday candles at night and eat special meals. They do not go to work, drive, write or use any electrical devices.

During the middle four days, known as chol hamoed, semi-festive "intermediate days," most forms of work are permitted.

What is typical Passover food?

When Jews fled Egypt, 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 and do not consume any chametz: food or drink that contains leavened grain.

This includes bread, sweets, cereal, pasta and most alcoholic beverages.

Some families also clean their houses thoroughly to remove all crumbs of chametz.

What is the Seder?

On the evening before Passover begins, a special service called a Seder (Order) takes place over a meal with family and friends in the home.

On the table, there are three unleavened breads on top of each other. At the start of the Seder, the middle matzah is broken and the largest piece is hidden for the children to find.

The child who finds it receives a small prize.

Four small glasses of wine are drunk and an extra cup is left for the prophet Elijah, who is believed to reappear and announce the coming of the Messiah.

What is the Haggadah?

The Haggadah is a Jewish text that is read during Seder evening. It tells the story of how Israelites fled Egypt.

Everybody takes part in reading the Haggadah, some in Hebrew and some in English. After the reading, the youngest child asks four questions and his father will answer. The four questions are:

Why is it that on all other nights during the year we eat either bread or matza, but on this night we eat matza?

Why is it that on all other nights we eat all kinds of vegetables, but on this night we eat bitter herbs?

Why is it on all other nights we do not dip even once, but on this night we dip twice?

Why is it that on all other nights we eat either sitting or reclining, but on this night we eat in a reclining position?