Tag Archives: Torah

Passover: The True Jewish New Year?

The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt,
‘This month shall be for you the beginning of months;
it shall be the first month of the year for you. 1
Exodus 12:1-2

I must admit I was surprised to learn that Rosh Hashanah — meaning, “Head of the Year” in Hebrew, does not actually take place at the beginning of the Jewish year. According to the lunar based Hebrew calendar, Rosh Hashanah is a festival that occurs on the first day of the “Seventh month” of Tishrei. While Passover, which begins on the fifteenth day of the month of Nisan (some time between mid-March and mid-April on the modern Gregorian calendar) is known as the “First Month” of the year according to the Torah.

While it is not entirely clear why Rosh Hashanah has become the accepted date for celebrating the new year culturally among Jews, it is possible that it has to do with ancient agricultural cycles, and the beginning of the fall harvest. As part of the Rosh Hashanah tradition, we choose to wear clothes that are white and new, and eat autumn foods that represent abundance, health, and happiness for the coming year. Similar to Passover, many Sephardim will arrange a special Seder plate including foods that symbolize overall good luck.

The Passover holiday takes place in the spring season — a period of change and renewal. The festival represents the redemption and rebirth of the Israelite people brought out of slavery to freedom, and their arduous journey to the “Promised Land” (then known as Canaan — an area that included modern day Israel) to ultimately become the Jewish nation. During Passover, we clean our home from top to bottom, buy new clothes, and prepare foods that include new green vegetables. A special Seder plate is arranged using foods that symbolize suffering, freedom, and thanks and devotion to God.

Whether spring or fall, both holidays represent new beginnings.
And the hope for a happier, healthier, and better time to come.

Shana Tova.

1 Exodus 12:1-2. Translation from the New Annotated Oxford Bible: With the Apocrypha.
Revised Standard Edition, Oxford University Press, New York, 1973, p. 80.

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Rice and beans for Ashkenazim on Passover? You could be lucky too.

Beans_Kidney_BlogWhile many Ashkenazim (Germanic or Eastern European Jews) have long considered Sephardim (Spanish/Mediterranean Jews) or Mizrahim (Middle Eastern Jews) lucky for being able to consume rice on Passover, this staple grain may soon be accepted for them as well. As the American diet continues to change (where individuals can choose to be gluten-free, dairy-free, vegan, or vegetarian) there has also been an ongoing debate in the Ashkenazi community about whether to start accepting kitniyot into the weekly Passover diet. Kitniyot (from the Hebrew word for “little things”) is a general category for such foods as legumes, pulses, corn, soybeans, peas, poppy seeds, and even rice, that like chametz (cereal grains such as wheat, or processed foods containing cereal grains such as cake or pasta) have been forbidden by Ashkenazi rabbis for centuries. (While many in the Sephardic world do consume kitniyot, it really varies region to region, such as Moroccans who generally do not consume rice, but may have chickpeas and fresh green beans). Because of today’s stricter labeling and processing requirements, it’s difficult to defend the tradition based on the possibility that a food product could have been contaminated, and the rule against kitniyot is not written in the Torah.

While some are starting to change by embracing rice and beans during Passover, many still prefer sticking to what they were brought up with. (It’s hard to change tradition!)

Here are some interesting and recent articles about the topic,
and the changes that some rabbis in the conservative movements are making.

And another regarding the legality of quinoa.

The Sacrificial Egg and the Paschal Lamb: When Passover and Easter Cross Paths

Egg_Brown_Korban

The “Korban Chagigah,” or Festival Sacrifice
(Made with Coffee Grounds and Onion Skins)

According to the Torah, the Paschal (or Passover) lamb (also known as the Korban) was first sacrificed and then offered to God the night that the Israelites began their Exodus out of Egypt. The blood from this lamb was then used to paint a marker on the door posts of the home of each Israelite as a sign to God that he should pass over their home as he went to slay each firstborn Egyptian boy. It is for this reason we eat lamb on Passover, and according to this direct translation in the New Oxford Annotated Bible, even the instructions on how to prepare the lamb (“roasted,” NOT boiled please!)  is very clearly commanded by God:

Exodus 12: The Lord said to Moses
and Aaron in the land of Egypt,

“This month (Nisan) shall be for you the beginning of months; it shall be the first month of the year for you. Tell all the congregation of Israel that on the tenth day of this month they shall take every man a lamb according to their father’s houses, a lamb for a household… and you shall keep it until the fourteenth day of this month (Passover), when the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill their lambs in the evening. Then they shall take some of the blood, and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they eat them. They shall eat the flesh that night, roasted; with unleavened bread and bitter herbs they shall eat it. Do not eat any of it raw or boiled with water, but roasted… It is the Lord’s Passover. For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will smite all the first-born in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgements: I am the Lord. The blood shall be a sign for you, upon the houses where you are; and when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague shall fall upon you to destroy you, when I smite the land of Egypt.”

According to one source (History.com) many of those Jews who later converted to Christianity continued this Passover ritual of roasted lamb for Easter (the day of the resurrection of Jesus Christ), referring to it as the “Lamb of God”. Easter takes place around the same time as Passover does each year, and some scholars believe that the Last Supper, which supposedly took place the night before Jesus’s crucifixion, was in fact a Passover dinner.

Egg_Painted_BlogAs a symbol for life, rebirth, renewal, spring, and eternity since ancient times, the art of egg decoration predates Christianity. According to some sources (see History.com), Mesopotamian Christians began dying eggs red for Easter to recall the blood of Christ, a tradition which carried on to Eastern Europe and evolved into painting the eggs in decorative colors and patterns. Eggs also play an important role on the Seder plate for Passover. This roasted egg is known as the Korban Chagigah (“festival sacrifice;” see photo at top of post) to symbolize the mourning over the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem (by the Romans in
70 C.E./A.D.), and our inability to make a proper lamb/meat sacrifice to God since then. The egg (representing life) is dipped into salt water symbolizing our tears of mourning, as well as those of our ancestors.

For those of you celebrating Easter or Passover:
Do you serve lamb for the holiday? If so, how do you prepare it?
Do you have any special traditions that use eggs (such as hiding them or decorating them)?
What do you know about the meaning of eggs and lamb during this holiday?

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