In Brief

When is Passover 2020 and how will it be celebrated?

This year’s Jewish holiday looks set to be unique, with millions of people under lockdown measures

The Jewish holiday of Passover will begin this week - and lockdown measures aimed at stemming the coronavirus pandemic look set to make it the most unique celebration in a generation.

On Wednesday 8 April, millions of families across the globe will mark the start of Passover, also known as Pesach in Hebrew, a week-long observance that involves eating specially prepared food, reciting Torah passages and helping the needy in one of the most significant dates in the Jewish calendar.

But with vast swathes of the world currently observing self-isolation, this Passover will be different from any previous one. “For the first time in the lifetime of so many British Jews, we will not be recounting the story of Pesach with our families and friends in person,” says Jeremy Brier in The Telegraph. “It will be a strictly Electronic Passover.”

And as The Times of Israel notes, Passover and “its epic story — how the Jewish people escaped to freedom after plagues struck their oppressors — are uniquely resonant this year” as Jewish people “find ways to honor the holiday amid the outbreak of what feels like a real-life plague”.

But what exactly is Passover and why is it celebrated?

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What is Passover?

Passover begins on the 15th day of Nisan, the day in the Jewish lunar calendar on which the Israelites were freed from slavery and departed Egypt.

That day falls on Wednesday 8 April this year. In Israel, Passover lasts for seven days, writes Haaretz, while Jews in the diaspora around the world celebrate for an extra day.

In the Torah, Moses warned Pharaoh, who had enslaved the Israelites, that God would set ten plagues on Egypt if he did not release them. The first nine plagues were blood, frogs, gnats, flies, blight, boils, hail, locusts and darkness.

The tenth and final plague was the death of the first-born sons. God told Moses that the Israelites should mark their doorposts with lamb’s blood so that God would “pass over” their houses and spare them from this plague, hence the name Passover.

Jews have celebrated the holiday since about 1300 BC, following the rules laid down by God in Exodus 13.

“It’s no coincidence that Passover coincides with the Christian festival of Easter, with Good Friday also taking place this week,” The Independent writes. “In the ancient languages of Latin and Greek, Easter was called Pascha, which derives from the Hebrew word Pesach.”

How is it celebrated?

Perhaps the most important part of Passover is the Seder (“order”) a special service and meal that takes place on the night before the holiday begins.

Family and friends normally get together to eat a carfeully constructed meal, each part of which represents the story of the Jews’ exodus from slavery. According to Chabad, the meal consists of:

  • Maror: bitter herbs, representing the bitterness of slavery
  • Salt water: the tears of the slaves
  • Charoset: a sweet paste made of fruit and nuts, symbolising the mortar the slaves used to build the pyramids
  • Zeroah: shank bone, representing the Passover sacrifice
  • Beitzah: a hard-boiled egg, symbolising life and birth associated with the spring
  • Karpas: a leafy green vegetable that stands for hope and redemption
  • Four cups of wine

Also eaten is matzah, an unleavened bread which represents how the Israelites fled Egypt in such a hurry that their bread didn’t have time to rise.

Observant followers also clean their home for weeks leading up to the holiday, to make sure that not one crumb of leavened food remains. As part of the cleaning tradition, leftover leavened food is burned before the holiday begins, Haaretz adds.

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