Passover is a pretty amazing holiday. As we celebrate it well into a sixth millennia, it’s remarkable how little the main event has changed over time and throughout the world.
Here at Mitzuyan Kosher Catering, we try to honor both Ashkenazic and Sephardic foods in our regular kosher menus and Passover specials, but even we were unaware of some traditions that developed throughout the diaspora. We also rediscovered practices that have sort of fallen by the wayside. I figured it would be entertaining to let you know about a few so you might decide to put in your Seder.
Passover Demands More From Males
The story of the Exodus is a pretty grim one, starting with Pharaoh’s order to kill all firstborn Jewish males to a similar plague on Egyptian households.
It’s gotten better for firstborn males since then, but the Torah does command them to fast the day before Passover to remember how Gd saved them from certain death. For the most part, it’s observed in Orthodox communities and some Conservative ones.
Many communities exempt the guys from the fast, on the principle that Passover is a joyful holiday and fasting kind of goes against the celebration. So synagogues will host a special siyyum, a ceremony used to mark the ending of a section of the Talmud. The siyyum is held the morning before Passover (Erev Pesach), and firstborns are invited to have cake and schnapps afterward.
According to My Jewish Learning, some Sephardic communities include first-born women in the siyyum, particularly those of Syrian origin. And sometimes poor couples would wed on Erev Pesach, inviting firstborn children to attend to exempt them from fasting.
Another Syrian practice is to wrap the matzos in a kind of knapsack, and give it to a male in the family who should throw it over his left shoulder. He then has a Q&A with the other Seder celebrants:
Q: What are you carrying?
Q: Where are you coming from?
Q: Where are you going?
Given the gruntable, one-word answers, I’m betting that this tradition started as a way to prod the teenagers into participating.
Passover Traditions to Contemplate: Scallion Whippings, Wet Floors, and Floured Foreheads
Some traditions sound fun and might be worth popularizing or reviving. What do you think?
- Jews from Afghanistan continue to observe the tradition of whipping each other with scallions in remembrance of how slave drivers in Egypt whipped the Hebrew slaves.
- Hasidic Jews in Poland used to spill water on the floors of their homes, lift up their coats, and cross over in remembrance of the Red Sea Crossing. As they reached the “other side,” they drank a glass of wine.
- Seder leaders from Tunisia, Morocco, and Turkey walk around the table three times with the Seder plate and tap it on the head of each person. This dates back to 14th century Spain to prompt everyone to remember the great exodus. Or to wake up anyone who needs it after drinking the second cup of wine.
- Three passages in Exodus mention Egyptians giving gold and silver to the Hebrews. Hungarian Jews traditionally display gold and silver jewelry at the Seder table.
Jews in Morocco celebrate Mimouna, the day after Passover by participating in these activities:
- They go into the ocean and throw pebbles behind them to scare off evil spirits.
- They bake up a storm, invite everyone over, and hand out bread and cake.
- Some mark their foreheads and their guests’ with flour to wish them a successful year.
It’s too cold in Toronto to even think about going near the ocean before June, but baking is always worth the effort. Here’s a nice Passover treat for chocolate matzah, from Saveur.