[This is a thoroughly revised version of Chapter 9 of my book Seasons of Our Joy, originally published in 1982 and most recently published in 1990 by Beacon Press.
[In the years since, the book has often been called a classic. Readers -- both Jews and others -- tell me its approach to the history, the spiritual meaning, and the actual practice of the festivals remains very helpful to them.
[Shalom Center members and subscribers can order the book from Beacon at a 10% discount with free shipping. For information on how to do this, see the very end of this post.
[The revised chapter follows. I welcome comments and suggestions, either directly to me at or in the comments section at its end here on our Website. – Shalom, AW]]


The month of spring -- the first month, says the Torah: time to begin. As the flowers rise up against winter, so the Israelites rise up against Pharaoh. The peoplehood of Israel is born -- and we celebrate the freedom of new births and new beginnings. The feverish hilarity of early spring, of Purim, becomes a more directed, more devoted vigor.


Many scholars believe that Pesach is a fusion of two early festivals -- one of shepherds, one of farmers -- that welcomed spring in two quite different ways. As the month of lambing begins in the flock, the shepherds may have celebrated the flock's fertility by sacrificing a sheep, smearing its blood on the doorposts of their tents, dancing a skipping "Pesach" ("skip-over, pass-over") dance around their campfires that imitated the skipping, stumbling steps of newborn lambs. (Pause for a moment to absorb the extraordinary imaginal and ethical leap of the Pesach story in saying that as the shepherds imitated stumbling lambs, God imitated stumbling shepherds -- or lambs. For God protected a newborn freedom for runaway slaves by making sure that Death would skip over, pass over, "pesach," their homes.)

As for the farmers -- in preparation for the harvest of spring barley and wheat, they may have cleared out from their homes and storehouses all the chametz, the sour dough, the starter dough they used to make the bread rise. They were not only starting over for the year's new crop, but starting over in human history by eating the most ancient bread of all, the flat unleavened bread that was the beginning of the farmer's food.

So before the beginning of the people Israel there seems to have been a farmer's festival of unleavened bread and a shepherd's festival of the pesach (pass-over, skipping) sacrifice. When in Exodus 12 and 13 the Torah describes the birth of the people, it hints of these double origins even as it brings these two main elements of observance and ritual together.

When and how did the two forms get connected? Some scholars think that the shepherds' ceremony was transformed first: that the celebration of the lambing season was turned into the great festival of liberation. Some crisis stirred the people to a white-hot intensity that enabled them to melt down the old forms and recast them, proclaiming a new birth and a new purpose. The festival itself tells us what this was. Among some crucial nomadic shepherd clans that became the history-bearers of the People Israel, the eruption of a desire for freedom was so strong that it shattered their subjection to the power of the Pharaoh of all Egypt. Their desire for freedom was so intense that those clans experienced the direct intrusion into their own life-histories of the awesome Power that lay at the root of all history and all new birth.

As the story has come down to us, the small Israelite clans which came to Egypt under royal protection first prospered and multiplied there. But a change in royal politics or family brought to power Pharaohs who feared and despised them. So they were subjected to forced labor on the Pharaoh's city-building projects, and then to a concerted attack on their high birthrate: all their boy babies were to be killed at birth.

This decree triggered the first stages of resistance. Midwives -- whether Hebrew or Egyptian or both is not quite clear -- refused to murder babies. Even an Egyptian princess conspired with Israelite women to save one baby boy, Moses, who grew up to become a firebrand rebel.

Moses killed an Egyptian straw boss, fled Egypt in fear of his life, and then married and lived for years as a shepherd and political refugee in the nearby wilderness. He had a child, and only then was able to experience the intense and fiery God-energy toward freedom that transformed the rest of his life. (The story intertwines the birth of children and the birth of freedom, as if to teach that at the root of both is new potential, whether biological and personal or political and historical; as if to teach that the biology of spring and the sociology of freedom are in some deep sense the same.)

At a mysteriously burning bush, Moses received God's charge to return to Egypt and to lead his people toward their liberation. With the help of Miriam his sister and Aaron his brother, Moses challenged Pharaoh; proclaimed that Pharaoh's stubborn arrogance would bring from YHWH, Who united all life and all history, ten disastrous plagues that finally shattered the Egyptian tyranny; and led his people into the wilderness of open space and choices.

According to the biblical story, from the intensity of thought and feeling that accompanied this moment of revolutionary change there emerged a festival intended both to memorialize and to re-enact the moment -- to keep it ever-fresh as a resource for renewal of the struggle to be free. In this new festival of Pesach – Passover -- the traditional sacrifice of the lamb in spring was re-explained as a ransom for the continued life of the Israelite first-born. For in the night of convulsion before the day of Exodus, the tenth plague or disaster struck, with the result that every first-born in the households of the Egyptian master-people died.

Only where an Israelite had the courage to violate the Egyptians' taboo upon killing sheep -- by slaughtering a lamb and smearing its blood upon the doorpost -- did the plague of death pass-over and the first-born survive. (When the family left the house through this doorway, their exit through the blood upon the doorpost echoed the process by which every human being passes through a passage full of blood in order to be born. So this smearing of blood turned the house of every family that chose to do it into a house of birthing.)

This connection between the Pesach lamb and the rescue of the firstborn may have evoked deep feelings at the personal, family level as well as in the arena of political freedoms. For the passage in Exodus makes a close connection between the Pesach sacrifice and the command that every firstbom calf or lamb shall be killed for sacrifice-and that every first-born son shall be specially redeemed, for his life and blood are also forfeit as a sacrifice.

It is not hard to feel that the Pesach lamb was partly a ransom against child sacrifice -- partly a psychological substitute for killing one's own firstborn son, as the ram on Mount Moriah was Abraham's substitute for killing his son Isaac. For the many years in which the sacrifice was carried on at local shrines and at the First and Second Temples, it may therefore (like circumcision) have helped discharge the tension between fathers and sons.

Jewish tradition understood this tension well when it said – in the passage from the last of the {Prophets, Mal;achi, that is read in synagogue every year on the Shabbat just before Pesach –- that the great task of Elijah the Prophet was to "turn the hearts of the fathers to the sons and the hearts of the sons to the fathers," and then welcomed Elijah to every circumcision and to every Passover Seder. In our own generation, modern psychologists have rediscovered the tension between the generations. If there were no way to discharge the tensions, some of them have said, they might explode into murder. So the Pesach ceremony may be a way of dealing with the most intimate struggles for life and freedom in the family, as well as the grand and glorious struggles of world history.

This speculation is strengthened by the emphasis in the first four chapters of Exodus on childbirth as the crucial element in the Israelite search for freedom and in the Pharaoh's denial of it. The effort to drown newborns, the midwives' frustration of that effort, the conspiracy of Miriam with Pharaoh's daughter to save the baby Moses, the birth of Moses' own son before he can experience God in the burning bush, and the uncanny circumcision of that son before Moses can become the liberator -- all these suggest a strong connection between human birth, the protection of babies, and the liberation of a people.

Each child comes through the narrow space to bring broad new possibilities of freedom to the world. Perhaps the oldest Pharaoh is the impulse many parents feel, at one or another moment, to strangle that unpredictability in the cradle.

In the long historical process of shaping the festival we know as Passover, there were many moments of change and growth. The crucial moment came when these separate sets of feelings about the new births in the flock of sheep, about newborns in the clan and family, and about the birth of political freedom were fused into a single extraordinary ceremony.

What was remembered as a great transformation of symbols in the intense emergency of the Exodus was preserved as a teaching of those transformed symbols even afterward. In the book of Exodus, indeed, the description of the emergency celebration and the command for future celebrations are tightly intertwined, moving back and forth from now to later. It is a way of saying that the later generations were to experience the first event as an urgent part of their own immediate lives. Once the connection had been made between the rebirthing powers of the flock and the human family, and the power of a people to politically rebirth itself, that connection was never forgotten.

But then where does the week-long Feast of Unleavened Bread join the story? Modem scholars feel that the nomad army of liberated Israelites may have brought their shepherds' festival of freedom to the settled farmers of Canaan. As many of the Canaanites responded to the fervent mixture of Israelite conquest and conversion, they connected their own history, legends perhaps of Abraham and Isaac, with the memories of the returning clans. The already settled farmers kept on celebrating their own spring festival of the unleavened bread and the new spring grain. They also accepted the shepherds' Pesach sacrifice into their celebration of the springtime.

As the invading nomads settled down, they preserved their own ceremonial of birth and liberation, and joined with their neighbors in the week-long feast of matzah. Yet the scholars think the two festivals may have remained distinct for centuries. They may even perhaps have observed at two different times in the month of spring-the sacrifice at the full moon; the matzah feast whenever the barley harvest was ready to begin.

The scholars suggest that not until the Babylonian exile did the two festivals become one. Cut off from the nature-rhythm of their own barley harvest in regard to the one festival and cut off from the sacrificial altar at the Temple in Jerusalem in regard to the other festival, the Israelites in Babylon may have needed the two festivals connected and their dates fixed. In exile, their intense desire for exodus, for freedom and a return to the land of Israel, may well have burned hot enough to melt down the meaning of the ceremonial meal of matzah -- to fuse it with the Pesach lamb as a memorial and a demand for exodus.

According to this theory, by the time the ancient oral traditions are woven into the text of the Book of Exodus, the matzah festival is connected with the liberation from Egypt by means of remembering that the haste of departure was so great that there was no time for the Israelites to let the dough rise in the emergency rations they had baked.

In any case, by the time of the Second Temple, the crucial personal and communal elements of Passover had been unified. It celebrated the spring equinox, the moment when the sun was born again-began anew to warm the northern hemisphere. It celebrated Spring in the lambing of the flocks and the harvesting of barley. It celebrated the life of every newborn child, and the joy of every family that the firstborn need not be offered up to God. It celebrated the birth-time of the people and their ability -- not simply once, but now another time -- to emerge from slavery to freedom and from exile to self-determination in their own land. And so Pesach had become the quintessential festival of newness, creation, creativity, freedom.

At this point, what Pesach meant was that on the tenth of the month of Nisan, each family acquired a lamb -- or, if it were too small or too poor to deal with a whole lamb of its own, shared with a neighbor. In enormous multitudes -- more than three million strong in the year 65 C.E. -- the people Israel converged on Jerusalem to celebrate the festival. They would sacrifice the lambs as the day of the fourteenth of Nisan turned into dusk and moved toward the evening of the fifteenth. Until midnight they would roast and eat the paschal lamb, with bitter herbs to remember the bitterness of slavery and with matzah to recall the haste of liberation. For a week they would stay in Jerusalem, eating only unleavened bread, telling the tales of freedom, gathering again on the seventh day for another solemn day of dedication.

Sometime during the week they would begin to wave before God's altar an omer of the earliest-ripened barley, starting the count of 49 days of awaiting the crop from different fields throughout the land of Israel as the barley ripened-a count that itself would ripen on the festival of Shavuot. And after the seventh day they would return to their homes.

Late in the period of the Second Temple, under the influence of Hellenistic and Roman culture, the Pesach feast became a carefully ordered meal that borrowed from the pattern of the Greek and Roman symposium, or discussion banquet. As this pattern developed, the Mishnah -- a collection and codification of those traditions and practices of Jewish life approved by the early rabbis -- laid out how to do the order, the Seder, of the Pesach meal. In its essentials, this Seder became the pattern that was put into the Haggadah -- the Telling of Passover -- and thus became the pattern for the meal as we have it for our own generation.

One of the major elements introduced by the Mishnah, borrowing from the symposium, was the drinking of four cups of wine -- two early in the meal, two after the meal was over. The custom of reclining during the meal as an expression of freedom also drew on Roman custom -- for free citizens in Roman times would recline to eat a formal dinner.

There is also a tradition, passed on by word of mouth alone until our own day, that the Seder of Roman times which the Haggadah itself describes -- the Seder in which Rabbi Akiba and four colleagues talk all night -- was actually the occasion for discussing and planning an uprising against the Imperial power. Akiba's insistence on adding to the Passover Seder's blessing over God's redemptive power in Egypt, a passage looking forward toward restoration of the Temple that the Romans had destroyed, and Akiba's support for the Bar Kochba revolt against Rome as a Messianic event, were presumably connected with the discussion at this famous Seder in the town of B'nei Brak. This may have been the first occasion when Passover was consciously used not only as a celebration of God's gift of freedom in the past but as an incitement of collective human action for freedom toward the future.

Between the codification of the Mishnah (end of the second century C. E. ) and the collection of the Gemara's commentaries on it (three centuries later), there were some changes in the text and arrangement of the Seder. The Mishnah lays out several questions to be asked by a child (in some texts three, in some four). One of these questions is about the roast lamb of the Pesach sacrifice. After the destruction of the Temple had not only occurred but lasted for several centuries, so that the restoration of the sacrifices no longer seemed imminent and the question about them was irrelevant to the actual Seder meal, the Gemara replaced this question with one about reclining.

So at this point the child's questions became the Four Questions that we have today, all built upon the crucial question "Why is this night different from all other nights?" For on this night we eat only matzah; we eat bitter herbs; we twice dip food, into salt water and charoset (chopped fruit and nuts soaked in wine); we recline at the table. Why?

The Gemara also described a shift of the "Telling" parts of the ritual from their earlier position during the meal to a place after only a symbolic green vegetable had been eaten and before the actual meal, probably to make sure the telling was done well and thoroughly before the effects of wine and food had dulled the abilities of the celebrants.

There were several debates among the Talmudic rabbis as to what the text of the telling on Pesach night should be. Some of these may seem at first glance picayune, but when we probe a little there is often revealed some basic moral issue. One of these disagreements was the one between Tarfon and Akiba over whether to refer to a future redemption and the restoration of the Temple. Another began out of a consensus that the story should start out by telling of the Israelites' original degraded status, and rise to their glorious redemption. But then the consensus turned into a dispute over what degradation to begin with: the slavery in Egypt, or the idolatrous beliefs of Abraham's family? This dispute was resolved by starting with both: "We were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt . . . " and "Our forebears served as slaves to idols . . . "

Even the cup of Elijah results from a debate over whether there should be four or five cups of wine. The compromise was to have a fifth cup but not to drink from it or say the blessing, and in time this became known as the cup that awaited Elijah's visit to announce the Messianic redemption (may it come soon and in our own day). For it will be Elijah, according to tradition, who will at that time settle the debatable points of Torah on which the rabbis had been unable to reach a firm conclusion. "Four cups or five? Ask Elijah!"

Another, much more playful, debate arose over how many plagues really happened in Egypt -- ten, fifty, two hundred? This debate is presented verbatim in the Haggadah -- and takes on a more profound meaning when we notice that the various proposed numbers of plagues add up to 610, plus a three-word mnemonioc to remember them. Add these together, and we have 613, which is also the total number of God's commandments according to a traditional view. So the Haggadah hints that the ten plagues of Egypt stand opposite the Ten Commandments of Sinai; and that there are 613 plagues standing opposite the 613 commandments. For every commandment unfulfilled, there is a plague . . .

In the Gaonic period in Babylon, these discussions continued and gradually the results crystallized into a more-or-less agreed text and order of a service for Passover night. This text first appeared as part of the earliest Jewish prayerbook in the ninth century. By the eleventh century, the text was almost identical with the traditional Haggadah used today, with the exception of the verses beginning "Pour out Your wrath," which were added as a furious response to anti-Semitic outbursts during the Crusades. The earliest appearance of a separate Passover Haggadah seems to have been in the twelfth century. The songs sung after completion of the regular service first appeared in the fourteenth and sixteenth centuries.

During the past century, under the stimulus of profound changes in Jewish life, a number of modified Haggadahs have been used by parts of the Jewish community, beginning with Reform and Reconstructionist editions in the United States and with new versions published by hundreds of nonreligious socialist kibbutzim before and after the establishment of Israeli independence.

During the late 1960s and early 1970s in the United States, political and religious upheavals among young Jews led to the publication of a number of different Haggadahs. Some of these expressed more or less radical political feelings, others expressed the determination of Jewish women to enter Jewish life as full equals with men, and some presented a variety of alternate readings from inside or outside Jewish traditional thought that could be used to strike up open discussion and debate at the Seder in the spirit of the Zman cheruteynu, season of our freedom.



Preparations for Pesach are the most elaborate of all the Jewish year. They take place in both the physical realm of preparing the household by removing leaven, and the spiritual realm of clearing away deadliness and idolatry by means of prayer and Torah study. We act in the two realms simultaneously in parallel; here we will look at the physical first.

Renewal of the body can begin on Rosh Chodesh (the New Moon) of the month of Nisan, for that is when the reordering of the house and the cleaning out of last year's leavening can start. The Torah's command is that no chametz, leavening or souring agent, shall remain in one's house during Pesach. In our own generation, different Jews apply this rule with more or less stringency.

In removing the chametz, there are some traditional customs and regulations to keep in mind: regular bread is the most obvious candidate for removal. With it traditionally went all cereals and grains, especially wheat, barley, spelt, oats, and rye -- all mentioned by the rabbis -- and also corn (maize), not discovered until after 1492.

Rice, millet, peas, and beans (including peanuts) were forbidden for Ashkenazic Jews, descended from Northern European communities. The Mediterranean-based Sephardic communities and the Oriental Jews did not feel -- as did the Ashkenazic rabbis -- that these foods might be ground into flour, get confused with the originally prohibited grains, and seduce Jews toward eating those grains. In very recent years, some Ashkenazic rabbis , especially in Israel where the two communities have intermingled, have argued that this separation from Sephardic practice is not based on any accurate understanding of Torah and, moreover, tends to treat Seohardic custom as less kosher, less holy. So they have urged that the prohibition on these foods be abandoned. In any case, even Ashkenazic families that will not eat them are not forbidden to leave them in the house.

Alcoholic liquors based on grain (which include beer and practically all other alcohol except wine and pure fruit brandies like slivovitz) also contain chametz. So does vinegar, if it is made at all from grain. Pure apple cider vinegar, however, even though it is sour is not considered chametz and may be used during Pesach. Many canned, bottled, and processed foods contain cornstarch, com syrups, flour as a thickening agent, etc. All these are traditionally forbidden. So are non-foods that contain chametz -- some cosmetics, inks, glues, toothpastes, etc.

There are several approaches to consider in dealing with this chametz:

• The very nooks and crannies of the household probably bear chametz in their dust; so the custom has arisen of doing an extraordinarily thorough spring cleaning before Pesach.

• As for visible, palpable chametzdik foods, some people find it psychologically satisfying to finish half-loaves of bread, half-boxes of crackers, etc., in the two weeks before Pesach.

• What is left can be physically removed from the house. In some communities, the custom has arisen of taking such foods, together with some money, to soup kitchens or other places that feed the (non-Jewish) desperately poor. In this way both the mitzvah of removing chametz and the mitzvah of tzedakah are fulfilled. If the soup kitchen or other group chosen is also working toward the goal of freeing the poor from poverty and powerlessness, then the historic message of Pesach-liberation from slavery -- is also carried outward to the broader world.

• The chametz can be separated from everything else in the house, put in a room or a large box that is sealed closed, and the chametz can then be formally and legally sold to a non-Jew. It may be advisable to arrange this through a rabbi, or other person trained in Jewish traditions, who is knowledgeable in this particular practice. Untrained individuals may find it useful to consult as a model the legal formulas for this sale printed on pages 36-39 of Section 3 on Festivals of the Code of Jewish Law (Ganzfried-Goldin, ed., Hebrew Publishing Co.). This arrangement allows the chametzdik food to be sold before Pesach and bought back for the same price afterward. In some congregations, the custom has arisen of making the sale to a non-Jewish charitable organization -- for example, Oxfam, which tries to deal with the world hunger problem -- and then donating part or all of the cost of the food after its repurchase.

Traditionally, all food utensils used during the regular year either need to be locked away after thorough washing and left unused during Pesach so that utensils would be used that were saved all year (under seal) for Pesach use alone; or else the utensils were purified of leaven by putting them in large pots of boiling water and putting boiling-hot stones or bricks in the pots so that the water (still boiling hot) would overflow the rim. Burners on the stove can be covered with foil, a special tablecloth used on the table, etc.

Special food intended for Passover is indicated by the special "Kosher L'Pesach" notation on the container with a rabbinic seal of kashrut. Fresh fruits and vegetables do not need this symbol; foods like fresh milk or foods that list ingredients and do not list any form of chametz are probably kosher in fact, but there is no way to be certain that chametz has not infiltrated. Individual households must decide whether to insist on rabbinic certification. Whatever the decision, after utensils have been changed or purified and the regular food sold or given away, only food intended for Pesach should be bought.

Traditionally, the matzah intended to fulfill the positive command to eat unleavened bread (which is separate from the negative command to not eat leavened bread) is made of only flour and water and must be completely baked in less than 18 minutes from when the flour is mixed with water, so that it has no time to rise. Special egg matzahs, fruit juice matzahs, etc., that use no water are not chametz; they are not fully matzah either. Traditionally, therefore, they may be eaten during Pesach but not as the ritual matzah of the Seder. Some households use only sh'murah matzah (guarded matzah). Its flour has been watched all the way back to the time of harvesting the grain to make sure no water has touched it. Some sh'murah matzah comes from fields that receive only the merest minimal amounts of rainfall.

The baking of ritual matzah can itself become a spiritually uplifting experience. The process requires an oven capable of very high heat that can bake in great speed; absolutely dry flour; and fresh spring water with which the flour is combined just before baking. Rows of holes are put in the matzah in order to permit air bubbles to escape rather than leaven the bread even unintentionally. Directions for baking can be found on pages 143-145 of The First Jewish Catalog. (But it is very unlikely that such private baking can meet all the traditional tests for kosher matzah; so some who like to do their own baking eat this matzah before Pesach begins.)

On the night before Pesach (or if it begins at the end of Shabbos, on the Thursday night before), there is a final hunt through the house to get rid of any chametz that has not been eaten, given away, or sealed off and sold. Many households give this search a ritual as well as practical character by having each member of the household hide a few chunks of bread around the house ahead of time -- adding up to a minyan, a total of ten. Then the whole household can hunt. A candle -- not some other kind of light -- is used for this search, because (so the Talmud says), the human soul is God's candle to search out the innards of the world.

A feather (which you may want to look for in a public park in a pre-Pesach spring walk that afternoon) or a palm-branch from the lulav that has been put aside from last Sukkot may be used to brush the pieces of bread from their hiding place into a paper bag-so that no one actually is contaminated by a crumb of leaven.

The search begins with a blessing: "Baruch atuh YHWH [Adonai or Yah] eloheynu melech [ruach] ha-olam asher kid'shanu b'mitzvotav vitzivanu al biyyur chameytz. Blessed are You, Lord our God, Ruler of space and time [or, Breath of Life our God], who has made us holy through Your commandments, and commanded us about the removal of leavening." After the symbolic ten pieces have been found and any other chametz found along the way has also been swept up, the bag of chametz is laid aside. The household members use the ancient popular language, Aramaic, to declare:

Kol shamira v'chamiya dika birshuti, d'la chamitey ood'la bah-aritey ood'la yadana ley, livtil v'lehevey hefker k'afra harah.

All leaven in my possession that I have not seen or removed or that I don't know about is hereby made null and void, and ownerless as the dust of the earth.

In the morning, after breakfast, this declaration is recited again and the bag of chametz is burned outside the house -- beginning perhaps with the dried-out lulav (palm branch). If Pesach begins Saturday night, then on Friday morning, leavening like challah for eating Friday night may be left; the rest should be burnt (since a fire cannot be kindled on Shabbos); and the declaration of nullity is delayed until after eating two briefly separated meals which use up all the remaining bread on Shabbos morning, so as to fulfill the mitzvah of eating three meals with bread every Shabbos. If later during Pesach an accidentally overlooked piece of chametz is found, a cup or pot should be placed upside down over it and then during the middle five days of semifestival, it should be burned with the blessing, "Who has commanded us about the removal of leavening."

In addition to the special problems created by a Pesach that begins on Saturday night, there are special problems with a Pesach that begins on Wednesday night. In such a year, all day Thursday and Friday are festivals. In traditional homes, food can be cooked on these days for eating on these days or on the semi-festival days later-but food should not be cooked on the festival days to eat on Shabbos (and even more strongly, food should not be newly cooked on Shabbos itself).

How then to cook for Shabbos? The rabbis ruled that if a family began cooking for Shabbos before Pesach began and continued on into the festival days, this was not the same as beginning the process during Pesach. So if Pesach begins Wednesday night, some cooking for Shabbos begins during the day before. That food and some matzah are singled out, and the household does the ceremony of eruv tavshilin, mixture for cooking, declaring over this food:

Blessed are You, Lord our God, Ruler of space and time, Who has made us holy with Your commandments and commanded us about the "mixture." By means of this mixture we may bake, cook, warm, kindle lights, and do everything necessary from holy day toward Shabbos -- we and all Israel who live in this town.

After 9:30 of the morning before Pesach, it is forbidden to eat chametz and it is the custom not to eat matzah, so as to be able to savor fully the taste of the first matzah at the Seder.

First-born children traditionally do not eat at all during the daylight hours before Pesach, in recognition of the awesome fact that all the first-born children of Egypt died during the night and that the Israelite first-born were saved only by virtue of God's forbearance and the Pesach sacrifice of the lamb and the blood on the doorposts. However, it is a mitzvah to celebrate with food and drink the completion of a mitzvah such as the study of a part of the Bible, Talmud, or other text from the tradition. So the custom has arisen that the first-borns of a community gather on the morning before Pesach to study together, and then can eat a breadless siyyum, a festive meal to celebrate the mitzvah.

In some households, the afternoon before Pesach is a time to walk for an hour or two in a park or woods, enjoying the spring birth-time before turning to the political-historical birth-time. In some traditional communities, it is a time to immerse in the mikveh, the ritual bath -- not to become physically clean but to experience the purifying rest, the sense of oceanic union with the universe, that can come from total immersion. Bodies of pure running water-streams, lakes, oceans -- can be used as mikvehs.

To some modern sensibilities, following the rather elaborate rituals for ridding the household of leaven may seem obsessive. The task may become so onerous -- especially if it is loaded onto just one member of the household -- that it seems to re-establish the slavery that the original Passover freed us from! If the toil of pre-Pesach cleaning is shared and then the Seder is greeted as a great shared liberation, the toil might even come to be used in a spiritually helpful way.

There is also a mystical outlook on the meaning of the removal of chametz that can be kept in mind. According to this view, chametz is what lifts us up throughout the year -- leads to our working harder, searching deeper, loving more. It is the yetzer, or swelling-impulse, of the soul. But allowed to swell and grow without restraint, it becomes yetzer ha-ra, the evil impulse. It impels us not only to productivity, but to possessiveness; not only to creativity, but to competitiveness; not only to love, but to jealousy and lust.

So once a year we must clean out even the uplifting impulse; we must eat the flat bread of a pressed-down people. Half a year after the Tashlich ceremony of Rosh Hashanah, we must clean out the pockets of pride that have grown big again. Half a year after Yom Kippur, we must again swallow hard and look again at what is eating us.


While the Temple stood, the approach of Pesach was a time for every Israelite to clear away any aura of contact with a death. For no one who had touched a dead body could offer up a sacrifice to the living God without first going through an exercise to clear away the taboo. Pesach was the only time that every Israelite family brought a sacrifice. (On other festivals the priests made the offering, and when it was a matter of an individual guilt-offering or something similar, the special occasion would apply to just one person.) So to prepare for Pesach, the whole people heard the Torah reading about how to clear away the death taboo.

Now, with the Temple gone, we read that Torah passage to cleanse ourselves of deadliness through the reading itself. The passage is about the red heifer or parah adumah, and we read it on the second Shabbos before the month of Nisan begins (or if it actually begins on Shabbos, on the Shabbos just before).

This passage (Numbers 19:1-22) describes how the red heifer was sacrificed-its red blood sprinkled on the altar and its body burned with red cedarwood and the red spice hyssop, with a scarlet dye to make in the fire a cloud of red smoke. The heifer's ashes were then used to clear away the uncanniness of death from the person of anyone who had touched a corpse. Along with this passage, on Shabbos Parah we read a haftarah (prophetic passage; in this case, Ezekiel 36:13-38) in which God promises to cleanse all Israel from our idolatries.

On the Shabbos after Shabbos Parah, we read a special Torah passage to announce that Nisan, the month of Passover, is upon us. This passage from Exodus 12, "This month shall be for you the head of the months; it is for you first of the months of the year," is added to the regular Torah portion of the week. Every new month is announced on the Shabbos before, but only Nisan is announced with a special Torah reading. This gives the month an extra honor, and gives the congregation a special electricity about Pesach. The Shabbos is called Shabbos Ha-Chodesh, Shabbos of The Month. It completes the four special Shabbosim that began with Shabbos Shekalim and Shabbos Zakhor before Purim.

Once Nisan actually begins, the community begins to collect money to help the poor celebrate Pesach fully. This ma-oz chittin or wheat money is intended to let the poor buy matzah -- and by extension all their other needs in food, clothing, and fuel -- in order freely to celebrate Pesach, the festival of freedom.

Even if someone has already fulfilled the mitzvah of tzedakah, in complete accordance with the law, s/he cannot appreciate the full implication of freedom knowing that a neighbor is hungry and in need. If s/he knew that there were hungry people in the town and had not bothered to come to their assistance, s/he would be guilty of telling lies -- God forbid -- on this "watch night" when the Seder itself begins, "Let all who are hungry come and eat." If, however, s/he has made an effort to supply the needy with food, and then says, "Perhaps there are still some poor people of whom I know not, I am ready to receive them at my table," then these words are clearly sincere and s/he is rewarded for saying this just as if s/he had at this very moment fed the hungry and gladdened the hearts of the poor (Eliyahu Kitov).

Money for this Pesach aid is distributed to the poor before the Shabbos before Pesach, so that they should have time to buy what they need.

Although the practice of ma-oz chittin focuses first on the poor of one's own town or community, some Jewish communities in some years have lived under restrictions of their governments as to how much matzah and other Pesach foods they may prepare. For some years in the history of the Soviet Union, for instance, very little matzah was allowed. It would be wise, perhaps at the time of Shabbos Shekalim before Purim, to check with these organizations in touch with oppressed Jewish communities to see what the situation is.

At the beginning of Nisan in the second year of freedom for the Israelites in the wilderness, the Mishkan, the traveling Shrine for the Presence of God, was dedicated. In memory of this event and in hope for the Messianic redemption when God's Presence will again become palpable (and this time to all humanity), some very traditional Jewish communities spend the seven days at the end of Adar and the first thirteen days of Nisan in a special commemoration.

On the seven last days of Adar, when Moses completed the Shrine of the Presence and offered up the dedicatory sacrifices, these communities pray for the great redemption. On the first 12 days of Nisan they read (not officially from a Torah scroll, but from a printed book, without a blessing) the 12 passages, one by one, about the gifts brought by the 12 tribes to the Shrine (Numbers 7:12=83); and on the thirteenth of Nisan, in honor of the priestly tribe of Levi, the passage on lighting the Menorah from Exodus 8:1-5.

The first day of Nisan is observed as a daylight fast in memory and mourning of the deaths of Nadav and Avihu, Aaron's sons, on the very day they brought strange fire to offer at the dedication of the Shrine. Similarly, the tenth of Nisan is kept by the most observant as a fast day in memory of the death of Miriam.

Beginning on the new moon of Nisan, it is also customary to start studying the Passover story -- especially to review the Haggadah and various ancient and modern commentaries on it, with an eye to using it on Pesach night. In households and congregations where it is customary to use variations on the Haggadah, Rosh Chodesh Nisan is a good time to begin gathering different Haggadahs and looking through them for passages that stir the mind and soul in one's present stage in life.

The two weeks between Rosh Chodesh and Pesach can be a time for serious exploration of the meaning of freedom, creativity, the birth and rebirth of identity. What mitzrayyim, what tight spot, do I need to leave this year? What buds and sprouts of change do I see in myself and in the world around me? What questions do I need to ask? What tales do I need to tell? What songs do I need to sing?

The Shabbos just before Pesach, Shabbos Hagadol (either The Great Shabbos or Shabbos of The Great) was traditionally a point at which these question -- seen, it is true, through the lens of the ancient texts -- might be intensified.
The Shabbos took its special name from the climactic lines about "the great and awesome day of YHWH, Yom YHWH hagadol v'hanorah," from the haftarah assigned for that day replacing the regular haftarah connected with the ordinary Torah portion in the regular cycle of readings. The special haftarah is from the last chapter of Malachi, the last of the Prophets. It ends:

For here! The day is coming that will burn like a furnace. All the proud, and all who do evil, will be stubble; and the day that is coming will set them ablaze, says the Lord of Hosts, so that it will leave them neither root nor branch. But for you who fear My Name the sun of righteous justice will rise with healing in its wings, and you shall go forth leaping joyfully like calves released from the stall. And you shall trample upon the wicked, for they shall be ashes under the soles of your feet on the day that I make, says YHWH Infinite. Remember the Teaching of Moses my servant, which I commanded him in Horeb for all Israel -- rules and judgments. Here, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and awesome day of YHWH. And he will turn the hearts of parents to children and the hearts of children to parents -- lest I come and smite the earth with utter destruction.

This haftarah clearly connects the ultimate Redemption with the impending Passover -- as if to remind us in advance that the point of Pesach is to look toward the coming of Elijah, in the Pesach that will redeem all the peoples from all the Pharaohs. And how, in that great and awesome day, will Elijah do the work of redemption? By turning the hearts of the generations toward each other. By infusing with love the questions of the children and the answers of the parents on Seder night. By making of the Pesach sacrificial lamb a true substitute for the death of the firstborn child, just as Elijah comes to the circumcision of a newborn son to make that ceremony, too, a substitute for death between the generations.

And thus Shabbos Hagadol comes to remind us once more and in a new way that Pesach is the festival of birth, of generation, of creation -- and of all the strains that emerge when the old gives birth to the new.

The passage takes on new meaning in a generation that faces the plague of global scorching, as the planet heats up like a furnace that like the plagues of old will scorch both powerful and helpless, both the wicked and the innocent. It can be read as a promise that the wings of a "sun of justice" – solar and wind power -- can heal us from that danger. And it calls on us to become the Elijah who can turn the generations' hearts toward each other – lest the earth be utterly destroyed.

In the afternoon service on Shabbos Hagadol, the part of the Pesach Haggadah that runs from "Avadim hayinu, slaves we were," to the end of Dayenu, "to atone for all our sins," is read in some synagogues to prepare for Pesach. It may replace the chanting of Psalm 104, or be added to it.


The last burst of preparations focuses on the Seder itself. This is a symbolic, ritual meal that uses real foods to embody ideas-literally to make them part of the body. Seder means order. The order of the meal and of the story-telling that precedes it has been carefully worked and reworked over centuries and is laid out in the book called Haggadah or Telling. But this is an order that looks toward freedom, and there is a free play of discussion and action within the basic pattern.

Since the Seder is built around a real meal, it is done around a dinner table with a plate of the symbolic foods upon it. Almost all Haggadahs describe how this Seder plate should be set, though few explain all the items: Pesach or zeroa (arm-outstretched-to-sow-seed) stands for the sacrificial lamb -- now usually represented by a roast chicken neck or wing, to avoid any hint that the Temple sacrifices might still be valid; or a boiled beet, among vegetarians, in accord with a Talmudic suggestion of what foods might fulfill the command of eating two dishes.

Why two dishes? One representing the Pesach sacrifice and the other representing the chagigah or festival sacrifice that was offered on all of the pilgrimage festivals, not only Pesach. The roast egg on the Seder plate came to represent the chagigah. (Today, many might say it silently reminds us that spring is a time of rebirth.)

On most Seder plates there are two forms of maror, the bitter herb: both a raw root of horseradish (to eat a slice separately from the matzah, but piled with charoset), and a dish of grated horseradish (to eat together with the matzah in memory of the Temple and in honor of Hillel, who urged that way of doing it).

There is also the mildly bitter green vegetable: parsley, lettuce, or celery, used for dipping in salt water at the beginning of the ritual. It is intended to foreshadow the bitter herb, and to trigger the children's questions because the procedure is so odd. And it may carry a second level of symbolic meaning in that the greens in salt water may represent the spring element of Pesach -- with the salt recalling the sea, mother of life.

And there is the charoset, a paste or mixture of chopped nuts, apples or raisins, and wine, by oral tradition (never written into the Haggadah itself0 said to represent the mortar that the Israelite slaves used in laying bricks. The fact that charoset is so sweetly delicious may represent a dialectical truth about slavery: slavery is bitter, but its orderliness and secure dependability can also become sweet to the slave. Today some teach that charoset is a hidden reference to the Song of Songs, which mentions all the ingredients -- and is traditionally read during Pesach.

Among the other arrangements of the Seder are the following:

• Participants (or at least the one who is acting as leader) wear the white robe or kittel that is otherwise worn only for Yom Kippur, one's wedding, and one's burial. Thus the sense of purity-in-renewal is asserted for this festival of new birth.
• Salt water for dipping the greens at the start of the ritual and a hard-boiled egg at the start of the meal.
• Three pieces of matzah, representing -- depending on the commentator -- Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; the three castes of Cohanim (priests), Levites, and ordinary Israelites; the two joyful sacrifices of Pesach and chagigah, plus the bread of the oppressed; creation, revelation, and redemption; the three aspects of life expressed in assertion (which requires one), tension (which requires two), and resolution (which requires three); and many other threads of meaning.
• Enough wine to make up four cups for each participant -- representing the four verbs of redemption in Exodus 6:6-7 (v'hotzeyti, v'hitzalti, v'ga-alti v'lakachti -- I will bring you out, I will deliver you, I will redeem you, I will espouse you).
• A wine cup to fill for the expected visit of Elijah the Prophet.
• Pillows to lean the left side on, especially when saying blessings over the wine and ritual food-as a symbol of freedom and relaxation.


The Seder itself can be done in a more or a less ordered way, depending on the desires of each group of participants. Since all Haggadahs -- traditional and experimental -- lay out an order for the Seder, the most important task is to absorb how one or another Haggadah works and to decide how much openness you want. What seems most useful for us to do here is to sketch the basic structure and to mention different approaches that some people have used. For more detail, choose a Haggadah.

The basic structure is (a) a series of preparatory steps; (b) an introduction to the telling made up of an interplay of questions and partial answers; (c) the heart of the telling, a brief historical passage from Deuteronomy intertwined with a number of midrashic commentaries; (d) singing part of the Hallel psalms, praising God for past and future redemptions; (e) formally eating the ritual foods; (f) the regular meal, with songs; and (g) the post-meal recitation of grace after meals and the rest of the Hallel psalms, with several closing songs and rituals.

In all of these sections it is possible to pause -- to add some ceremonial acts; read some poems, stories, commentaries from Jewish tradition or from non-Jewish sources, or additional prayers; make new midrash by sharing reactions to what is going on; or add new songs. Time and hunger may turn out to be the chief problems involved in enriching the Seder in this way. The group might decide to take the edge off hunger by eating a light snack beforehand or even (unobtrusively) at some point in the service and discussion.

The preparatory steps are lighting the festival candles; making the separation and hallowing of kiddush to bless the festival; washing the hands; eating the mildly bitter greens dipped in salt water; and breaking one matzah. The company might explore the meanings of this pattern. Does it evoke the process of the Creation, from the separation of light and dark to the breaking in two of Adam? Does it bring forth special memories of old Passovers? As an introduction and warm-up, a beginning for the festival of beginnings, what feelings does it arouse?

The heart of the Seder is the telling, in accordance with the command, "You shall tell your child on that day, saying . . .". Precisely the command to "Tell your child" directs the Seder in an intergenerational direction. The Haggadah examines the different approaches of four different kinds of children (or are all these different aspects of every person's makeup?) and suggests four questions that the youngest put to all the grown-ups. The Talmud makes clear that these questions are only a suggestion; it tells the stories of several Seders in which other questions were asked, and because they opened up the story, replaced the Four Questions at those Seder tables. It is especially interesting to note that only two of the Four Questions receive explicit answers in the Haggadah -- as if to say that the elders can never fully answer questions, or that the next generation must constantly work out new answers.

After the questions and some partial answers, the Haggadah enters the heart of the telling. This is made up of reciting the verses of Deuteronomy 26:5-8, a brief history of the Israelites' entrance into and exodus from Egypt, together with a long and intertwined midrash or exegetical commentary on these verses.

The passage in its original context is an unusual credo in the form of a history, a public statement to be made when bringing the yearly first fruits offering to the Temple. The statement is not the usual kind of credo in the sense of "I believe in the following general propositions about the world, my religion, and my self," but instead is a statement of memory -- a recapitulation of the history of the Israelite people in its relation with God.

The Haggadah's midrash on this passage pauses at many of the words of this mini-history, linking them with similar words elsewhere in the Bible and thus enriching the story. The midrash may also be making some philosophical points in arguments that were going on among the sages as the Haggadah was being shaped. For example, the midrashim could have been so chosen as to glorify Moses. Instead, he is referred to only once (and then in a casual way) in the whole Haggadah. Presumably the intention was to emphasize God's leadership and de-emphasize the individual hero who might come almost to be worshipped.

The next portion of the Seder is a powerful living-out of the fusion of physical and intellectual -- through eating foods that have a strong content of ideas and emotions. Some Jewish communities have not waited till the eating to make this fusion, but have made the telling itself more physical, in the tradition of the vigor and haste of the departure from Egypt.

Some Oriental Jews get up from the table, put matzahs on their left shoulders, and with sandals on their feet and staves in their hands march around the table and into other rooms or even into the street-re-enacting the Exodus.

Others act out a mini-play in which a dusty, exhausted traveler hammers on the door and is finally let in to describe how things were going in Jerusalem and how close the coming of Messiah seems. Some American Seders have included playlets on the ten different plagues, improvised dances expressing the feelings of the Four Children and of the different verses of Dayenu, and mime representing the inner essences of the matzah, the bitter herb, the wine, the charoset.

The section in which the ritual foods are shared begins with a formal hand-washing and goes on with matzah, maror (bitter herb), and charoset. It includes pointing out the shankbone or its substitute without eating or even lifting it -- lest it be thought the sacrifices are still in force without the Temple. Between the ritual foods and the regular meal there is in many households a strange moment that has the quality of both: the eating of a hard-boiled egg sliced in old salt water. The character and wide usage of this soup marks it as a ritual; yet there is no special explanation or blessing, and it is treated as the first course of the meal, before the real soup with matzah balls. The egg in salt water would seem to be a symbol of birth and fertility -- celebrated but not discussed.


The first day of Pesach is a holiday on which, traditionally, no work is done. Before the morning Amidah (standing prayer at the heart of each Jewish service)a hymn is sung: "B'rakh Dodi . . . , Flee," or "Hasten, my Beloved," a phrase from the last verse of the Song of Songs. Here it is addressed to God. There are three separate hymns by different poets under this title. One of them is sung on the first day, one on the second day of Pesach, and one on the Shabbos in the middle of Pesach. Each of them looks forward to the Messianic redemption, and each ends, "For the sake of the forebears, please save the children and bring redemption to their children's children. Blessed are You, YHWH, Who redeems Israel."

In the Amidah itself, the festival paragraph is inserted, with the special name "Chag Hamatzot, z'man Cherutenu, Festival of Unleavened Bread, the season of our liberation." After the Amidah, all of Hallel is recited on the first day .

The Torah readings of the first day of Pesach are made up of Exodus 12:21-51 and Numbers 28:16-25. These are, respectively, the passage that intertwines the story of the Passover night of Exodus with the command for future celebrations of Pesach; and the recitation of the sacrifices required for the seven days of Pesach while the Temple stood.

The haftarah for the first day is from Joshua 5:7-6:1, plus 6:27. In it, after having just led the Israelites across the Jordan River into the Promised Land, Joshua arranges the circumcision of all the Israelite males -- for all who had been born in the Wilderness during the forty years after the Exodus from Egypt had remained uncircumcised. He did this just in time to celebrate Pesach -- evidently for the first time since the Exodus, since only circumcised men could take part in Pesach. When the people ate unleavened bread, the manna which had fed them since the Exodus stopped falling, and from then on they ate of the grain of the land of Canaan.

In the first blessing of the Amidah in the musaf or additional service on the first day of Pesach, there is inserted a prayer for God to begin sending dew. This prayer marks the turning of the seasons in the Land of Israel. With Pesach begin the six months of the year in which there is almost never any rain; so the prayers for rain end. But some continuing moisture is essential to keep the land fertile, and so the rabbis decided to ask God for dew. The phrase "mashiv haruach u'morid hageshem, Who makes the wind blow and the rain fall," is simply dropped by Ashkenazic Jews from Pesach to Sh'mini Atzeret, and among Sephardim is replaced with the phrase "u-morid hatal, Who makes the dew fall." One of the great liturgical poets, Eleazar Kalir, wrote a hymn that is used on the first day of Pesach in most congregations. Its last stanza:

Give dew, precious dew, that we our harvest reap, And guard our fatted flocks and herds from leanness! Behold our people follows Thee like sheep, And looks to Thee to give the earth her greenness, With dew.

In the Land of Israel and among Reform Jews, as with all the other festivals (except Rosh Hashanah) there is celebrated only one first day of Pesach. Among non-Reform Jews of the Diaspora, two first days of festival are celebrated. On the second night of Pesach, therefore, there is a second Seder.

Some households have developed ways of making the two experiences quite different: for instance, one in a family or small group of friends, the other in a larger communal setting; one indoors, the other outside, even as the culmination of a hike; one more or less according to the traditional structure, the other in a looser form evoking the participants' own experience of liberation; one with a traditional Haggadah, one with a new one; one focused on political liberation, one on spring. It is on the second night of Pesach that the Counting of the Omer begins, which we will deal with in the next chapter.

On the morning of the second day of Pesach, congregations that recognize it as a festival day chant again a full Hallel, the psalms of praise from Psalm 113 to 118. From the Torah they read Leviticus from 22:26-23:44, and the same passage from Numbers as on the day before. The Leviticus passage contains the cycle of all the festivals of the year.

The haftarah for the second day, II Kings 23:1-9 and 23:21-25, describes the efforts of King Josiah in the seventh century B.C.E. to cleanse the whole land and people of idolatrous practices and symbols -- some of which had even been introduced into the Temple itself. Then Josiah called upon the people to make pilgrimage to Jerusalem to keep Pesach according to all the laws laid out in a book of Torah that had just been discovered (probably Deuteronomy). The people assembled in multitudes to keep such a Pesach as there had not been in all the days of the judges and the kings before.

With the end of the second day of Pesach, the intermediate days of chol hamoed (ordinary part of the festival) begin. In the morning service, only parts of Hallel, the psalms of praise, are chanted (omitting Psalms 115 and 116). We do this because on the seventh day of Pesach the Egyptian army was drowned in the Red Sea. According to the rabbis, when the angels began to sing for joy, God rebuked them: "Are not these also the work of My hands?" So in accord with God's desire we reduce our joy-so that we should express no pleasure over death, even the death of our enemies.

The obligation to eat no chametz continues through the rest of Pesach. Traditional Jews avoid strenuous or demeaning work during the whole week of Pesach; but cooking or other work for the holidays, and crucial business whose neglect would mean substantial losses, may be carried on. Most Jews now continue at their work during the week, but with a festive air.


On the Shabbos that comes in the middle of Pesach, the tradition teaches that the Song of Songs should be read before the Torah reading. The Song is a flowing set of interwoven love poems, some of them rich in erotic imagery and imagery of springtime. There was an argument among the rabbis over whether it should be preserved as part of the Bible at all -- an argument resolved by Akiba's insistence that "All the writings are holy, but the Song of Songs is the holy of holies.

Why did the rabbis assign the reading of the Song to Pesach?

The traditional rabbinic understanding of the Song is that it is about the love between God and Israel -- a love poem especially appropriate at Pesach, which might be viewed as the onset of the love affair that culminates fifty days later at the Marriage between God and Israel at Sinai.

Rabbinic and Kabbalistic midrash on the Song saw in it many specific metaphorical references to the night of watching, hope, and dread, just before the Exodus from Egypt; to the Exodus itself; and to the sojourn in the wilderness.

The themes of spring and sexuality in the Song go well with Pesach as a festival of spring and birth. Indeed, the Song may be seen as the obverse oif the Plagues – as a description of loving relationship between human beings and the earth, even a reversal of the war between adam and adamah that begins with the mistake of Eden. In the Garden story, human beings who have been offered the great bounty of the earth – on condition that they also exercise self-restraint inn not eating just one portion of the abundance before them – gobbpe ot anyway and are therefore reduced to a battl;e with an earth that produces only tjprns and thistles as they work in the sweate of thewir faces to wring just enough food from the reluctant earth. If Eden is the story of unheeding children come to adolescence – growing but overreaching in the process –then the Song of Songs is the vision of a human race more loving and beloved of each other and the earth -- an Eden for grown-ups.

In the Song, God's name is never mentioned, and the spiritual life is one of flow, spontaneity, openness, and process -- God as Immanent, Ever-present in the world, embodied in relationship. It thus complements the spirituality of the Haggadah, which is based on God as Other and on the rhythm set by clock and calendar. Perhaps both spiritual modes must be experienced and integrated if Messiah is to come -- and if Pesach is to teach toward the Messianic redemption, then Pesach must hold and share both modes of being.

This understanding of the Song and of its role in Pesach has emerged from the teachings of women and men in this past generation -- the first generation of Jewish history (at least since the Matriarchs) in which women as well as men are deeply engaged in the learning and reinterpretation of Torah and in the shaping of the Jewish future. So it may be organically connected with the fact that the Song of Songs itself treats a woman as the leading partner in the loving process, and that some modern scholars think it may well have been the only book of the Bible written by a woman.

The Torah readings for Shabbos Chol Hamoed Pesach are from Exodus 33:12-34:26 and Numbers 28:19-25. The former describes Moses' seeking out and achieving a close and loving knowledge of God's loving-kindness, and hearing as a friend God's pattern of Pesach in the pilgrim festivals. The latter details the burnt-offerings for Pesach.

The haftarah is the extraordinary chapter of Ezekiel 37, in which Ezekiel experiences the valley of dry bones -- the dead and hopeless house of Israel. God promises to breathe life and hope into the bones, to restore full vigor and spirit to the people, and to return them to their land. By placing this passage as a Pesach reading, the rabbis reasserted the connection between the redemption of the past and the redemption of the future.

According to tradition, the seventh day of Pesach is the day on which Pharaoh's chariots overtook the Israelites at the Reed Sea, and were plunged into the sea while Israel marched through it on dry land. In commemoration of the event, the seventh day (and eighth, for non-Reform Jews in the Diaspora) is a full holiday when work is forbidden and the people reassemble for a holy convocation.

The morning service for the seventh day includes a hymn to be sung just before the Amidah -- Yom L'Yabasha. It is by Yehuda Halevi, perhaps the greatest of the Spanish-Jewish poets (twelfth century). It begins by celebrating the salvation of Israel at the Reed Sea, and then looks forward to the future great redemption with the refrain, "Shira chadash shibchu g'eulim, Then a new song sang Your redeemed throng." The Torah portion (from Exodus 13:17-15:26) also focuses on the encounter at the Sea. It includes the song of triumph Miriam, Moses, and the people sang.

The haftarah underlines the theme of victorious song. It is made up of David's chant of triumph at his delivery from danger at the hand of King Saul: "The Lord is my rock and my fortress!"

On the eighth day, the Torah portion is Deuteronomy 14:22-16:17, if the eighth day is also Shabbos; if not, Deuteronomy 15:19-16:17 focuses on the command to celebrate Pesach in the context of the other festivals. The haftarah (Isaiah 1.0:32-12:6) again looks to the future:

And the wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid, and the calf and young lion and fatling together, and a little child shall lead them . . . . None shall hurt or destroy in all My holy mountain, for the earth shall be full of intimacy with YHWH as the waters fill the sea.

It is on the eighth day that the community remembers its dead in the yizkor service.


After nightfall ends the eighth day of Pesach, there is a havdalah (separation) ceremony -- a truncated version of the havdalah that ends Shabbos. The paragraph before the wine and the blessings of spices and fire are omitted (unless the eighth day is also Shabbos):

Baruch atah YHWH elohenu melech [ruach] ha-olam borey p'ri hagafen.
Blessed Are You, YHWH our God, Ruler [Breathing-Spirit] of space and time, Who creates the fruit of the vine. (Drink the wine.)

Baruch atah YHWH elohenu melech [ruach] ha-olam hamavdil beyn kodesh 1'chol, beyn ohr 1'choshech, beyn Yisrael 1'amim, beyn yom hashvi'i 1'sheshet y'mey hama-aseh. Baruch atah YHWH hamavdil beyn kodesh 1'chol.

Blessed are You, YHWH our God, Ruler [Breathing-Spirit]of space and time, who distinguishes between holy and ordinary, between light and darkness, between Israel and the other peoples, between the seventh day and the six work days. Blessed are You, Lord Our God, Who distinguishes between holy and ordinary.

In many households, people will then go out together to buy and eat some chametz: ice cream perhaps, or a specially well-baked bread, or beer and pizza.


The custom of a chametz party has been brought to its highest level by the Jews of North Africa, who hold a great celebration called Maimouna on the evening and day after Pesach.

Some have suggested that the day is named for Maimon ben Joseph, the father of Rambam or Maimonides, and that the day was the yohrzeit (death-anniversary) of Maimon himself. Not only was his son one of the greatest of the rabbinic commentators and codifiers; Maimon was himself a leading scholar of his generation, lived in the Moroccan city of Fez, and died about 1170. Much of his work focused on Islamic-Jewish relations; it both took Islam seriously as a monotheistic religion, and offered Jews who had been forcibly converted to Islam ways of continuing their adherence to Torah. His work was therefore of great significance to Jews living in Muslim countries -- which might help explain the fact and the name of the celebration on his yohrtzeit.

But there is another explanation of Maimouna and its name that seems more plausible in the light of actual relationships between Jews and Muslims in Morocco. The custom grew up centuries ago, and still survives, that on the evening after Pesach ends, when Jews can again eat chametz but have not yet had time to bake bread in their own homes, the Muslim community brings them loaves of bread. And at the end of the month of Ramadan, during which Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset every day, Jews bring the Muslim community some food to begin the great Feast of Breaking-the-Fast, Eid–el-Fitr. These gifts between the two communities are given with loving joy.

Maimouna starts with an evening meal of dairy foods symbolic of birth and fertility -- milk, figs, ears of wheat, and pancakes with butter and honey. Often a live fish, swimming in a bowl, is on the table, probably reminding the diners that fish are considered the most fertile of creatures. Alongside the fish bowl is likely to be a bowl of flour in which golden rings are hidden. The chacham (sage) of each local Jewish community dips a sprig of mint in a bowl of milk and sprinkles the milk on the heads of the community's members. There is a great bustle of visiting and sharing foods from one household to another. On the following day there are large picnics at beaches, fields, and cemeteries.

In the light of all this, it may well be that "Maimouna" comes from "maimon," the Hebrew word for "prosperity."

In Israel, Jews of Moroccan background carry on the Maimouna tradition with each other, including a large get-together in Jerusalem. In America, some Jewish and Muslim communities have made Maimouna and the end of Ramadan a time for peaceful visiting to redress the fear and anger that have sometimes beset the two cultures in recent generations.


For centuries or millennia, three major themes have been interwoven in Pesach: the birth of a people into political freedom; the rebirth of the earth into springtime life; and spiritual rebirth of the individual (especially in the symbolism based on removal of chametz). All these, of course, continue to be profoundly important. In our own generation, the Pesach story might also serve as a framework to deal with two new births that embody some elements of all these three. That is the emergence of new forms in the relationships between women and men, and the emergence of newly urgent needs in the realtioinship between human beings and the earth.

There are two main elements of Pesach tradition that might lead us in the direction of new women-men relationships: the story of the first stages of the birth of freedom, in the first four chapters of Exodus; and the Song of Songs. To this generation, the issues of the freedom of women and the place of women in the struggles for universal freedom are important. To such a generation, rereading the first four chapters of Exodus opens up some unexpected possibilities.

Those chapters keep asserting the importance of women and their experience of childbirth as the guide to freedom. First there are the midwives -- who are the first to resist Pharaoh's decree that all the Israelite newborn boys be murdered. They obey God, not Pharaoh -- even though they have never heard God's voice. They do not need to hear the Voice, because they hear it in the cry of each new baby. It is the voice of newness, unpredictability, creativity, the voice of "I will become who I will become," the Name that God's Own Self later adopts at the burning bush.

Even more than mothers, they understood childbirth -- because they had mothered so many births, so many mothers. And from giving birth to children, they learn to give birth to freedom. For the newborn carries at the biological level the same message that freedom carries at the historical-political level: it is possible to start over. It is possible for there to be possibility.

In Exodus, the women keep on teaching the lesson. Pharaoh's daughter and Miriam conspire to save the life of a baby boy by giving him a second birth from the waters of the Nile -- and he grows up to be Moses. But even Moses must receive more education from women before he can become the liberator. His first clumsy efforts at liberation only send him bursting forth from Egypt like tumultuously sown seed. He settles among seven women at a well (a symbol of the womb), marries one of them, has a child -- and only then can meet God at the burning bush and hear the Voice and Name of freedom.

Even this is not enough: On the journey back to Egypt, Moses -- in danger of death -- has to learn from his wife Tzipporah how to fulfill the birth of his son by renewing the covenant of circumcision. Not till then can he take on the task he has been assigned.

So these chapters teach us that women -- and the quintessentially female process, giving birth to children -- were crucial to the Liberation from Egypt. Even the liberation itself, out of Mitzrayyim, the Tight and Narrrow Place, across the broken waters of the Reed Sea, was a birth, or a conception in the first stages of what became a birth on crossing Jordan. Torah shows us that the process cannot be fulfilled until men are also part of it. But it is the women who first understand the path, because they bring to it something unique in their own life-experience.

During the past generation of struggle over the inclusion of women and other "outsiders" in the fullness of Judaism, one major innovation in the practice of the Seder itself has come to symbolize this struggle" placing and explaining an orange on the Seder Plate. One way of affirming this new element has been to affirm a new text that goes with it, explaining the presence of the Orange as well as unfolding its meaning in a new understanding of God, Torah, and the People Israel. The text follows the pattern of explanation for other items on the Seder Plate, such as the Bitter Herb:

The Orange on the Seder Plate

[Add an orange to the traditional items on the Seder plate. Then invite someone to ask “one more question,” "Why Is There an Orange on the Seder Plate?" and tell the following story in response:]

In our own day as in the ancient days of our tradition, an event becomes a story, a story is woven with new legends, and the legends lead the path into new teachings. So it is with the orange on the Seder plate.

To begin with, a woman in the far-flung American Diaspora asked a rebbetzin of the old tradition:
"What is the place of lesbians in Jewish life?"

She answered, "Lesbian sexuality in Jewish tradition is as troublesome as eating bread during Pesach!"

So the custom spread among some lesbian Jews to place a piece of bread upon the Seder table.

When another of our sisters heard the story, she said:

“Bread on the Seder plate would shatter the tradition. The presence and the teaching of gay men and lesbians in Jewish life transforms the tradition, but does not shatter it. So let us place on the Seder plate not bread but an orange -- transformation, not transgression.”

So ever since that day, we place an orange on the Seder plate, for it belongs there as a symbol of growth and transformation.

[Another Voice:] As the story grew and its telling was retold, new legends and teachings grew from its trunk and branches. Some taught that the challenge had been not about gay men and lesbians alone, but also to the place of all women in Judaism: According to their telling, a rabbi had said, "A woman belongs on the bimah [pulpit] as much as an orange on the Seder plate!" So in many homes, the orange on the Seder plate became a symbol of the place of women in the future of Judaism.

[Another Voice:] Why an orange? Because the orange carries within itself the seeds of its own rebirth. When we went forth from the Narrow Place, Mitzraiim, the Jewish people passed through a narrow birth canal and broke the waters of the Red Sea, and so was born into the world. The wisdom of women who were midwives made that birth possible.

In our generation, the Jewish people is again giving birth to itself. For the first time, women are sharing equally with men in bringing this new birth to its fruition. For the first time, gay men and lesbians have themselves come out of the Narrow Closed-in closet to share in shaping the future of Judaism. So we must for the first time bring to the Seder plate a fruit that carries, within, the seeds of its own rebirth.

[Another Voice:] Still others add: Every symbol on the Seder plate speaks to us of the Divine Unfoldings, the S’phirot. The tenth of the Unfoldings, the S’phirah of Malkhut or Majesty, is the gathering-together of all the Divine energies, and that S’phirah is symbolized in the human body by the Womb, in which each human life is gathered into wholeness on the verge of entering the world.

Until now, none of the objects on the Seder plate has symbolized Malkhut: the plate itself has been Malkhut. Malkhut has been the unseen Ground of Being, not the figure on the Ground -- as women and gay people have been the unseen background upon which all visible history has happened. But tonight we make visible the Gathering-place, Malkhut; tonight we place upon the field of being the orange that is a visible echo of the Seder plate.

[Voices Together:] Tonight all the excluded of our people -- lesbians and gay men, women and converts, take their full and rightful place in shaping the future of our people. Tonight, rebirth and Malkhut emerge from invisibility to take their place before the eyes of our reborn people. Tonight we place the Orange on the Seder plate.

Plagues and Blessings of the Earth

In the generation of human and earth history that most sounds forth the shofar-blast of alarm for the survival of the web of life upon our planet, the Ten Plagues of the Exodus story and the Seder service have taken on new power In much of rabbinic convention, they were looked on as the miraculous intervention of a Monarchical God acting from on high to demonstrate His [sic] power over the false god Pharaoh. But there is now growing a sense that these plagues – all of which were ecological disasters – resulted from the stubborn arrogance of a hard-hearted Pharaoh.

Why were there upheavals of the earth in response to Pharaoh's oppression of human beings? Because, in this interpretation, the Unity of all life, adam and adamah, human earthling and earthy "humus," was expressed by YHWH, the Interbreathing that unites all life. (Try pronouncing 'YHWH" without any vowels, and for many people what emerges is the sound of breath or wind – ruach in Hebrew.)

And in this earthier, more immanent understanding of God and Exodus, Pharaoh's hard-heartedness is also understood as an expression of God's process within human beings. As the story of the plagues begins, Pharaoh hardens his own heart against the suffering of Israelite slaves and the outcry to let them go free. As the story continues, God hardens Pharaoh's heart. Is this, like the Plagues, an intervention from "Above"? Or is it the result of an addictive process in which Pharaoh hardens his own heart so often and so thoroughly that finally the addiction takes over; God (that is to say, Reality) takes over; and he can no longer free himself from his addiction to power. Even when his own advisers call out to him that he is ruining his own realm, Egypt itself, he cannot stop. And even after the Night of the First-borns' Death, when he has in despair ordered the Israelites to leave, he wakes in the morning gripped by his addiction and leads his army to pursue them – and to drown.

Seders of the Many Nations

The Freedom Seder of 1969 succeeded in opening the story of liberation to peoples other than the Jews. Since then, many interfaith groups have written Haggadahs focused on their shared experience of liberation. Among the experiences included in this way have been the liberation struggles of Black Americans, Vietnamese, Tibetans, Native Americans, and various other peoples of Latin America, Africa, and Asia.

Some have chosen another way of joining in interfaith celebration of the Seder: bringing into the Seder passages from Christian and Muslim tradition that bear on the original Exodus story. For exampole, this might include reading from the Christian Gospels the story of Palm Sunday as a demonstration by Jews against the Roman Empire, led by a radical rabbi from the Galilee -- Jesus -- and aimed precisely for the time of Passover with its echo of the overthrow of imperial Pharaoh. Many chapters of the Quran retell the story of Moses, whom islam considers a Prophet, and of the Exodus. in our generation, it could be a healing act to include some of these Quranic passages in the Seder -- for instance, the Chapter of al-Qasas (the Stories) (28.2-46) or the Chapter of TaHa (20.9-97)

One special case of the "many nations" has brought forth a unique response: an effort to turn Passover and its Seder into a moment of addressing the tight and narrow space of the Hundred Years War between the Jewish community in the Land of Israel – what became the State of Israel – and the Palestinian people in the Land of Falastin – the same land. Some communities have drawn on the symbols and practices of the Seder but in a major departure from traditional practice, have rooted the celebration of a Pesach Seder not in the Exodus but in the conflict and reconciliation between the two families of Abraham as seen in biblical tradition: Sarah and Isaac in relationship to Hagar and Ishmael. Turning to this story permits treating both families in the past and both peoples today as worthy heirs of Abraham, rather than treating either the Israelis or the Palestinians of today as Pharaoh and the other as the slaves in the Exodus story. Yet many of the Seder symbols remain powerful – the bitter herb of this violence, the broken matzah that may betoken the division of the Land between the two peoples, etc.

Seders of Personal Liberation

One result of this flowering of the haggadah to address the diverse experiences of the many Seder-partners has been the invention of ceremonial space for individual expression. One of the most successful of these forms has been the "Freedom Plate," proposed by Martha Hausman: that a special plate be set aside next to the traditional Seder plate, on which could be placed physical objects brought by every participant in the Seder as a symbol of her/ his liberation THIS YEAR from Mitzrayyim.

Mature learned Jews, children, and people who have never before attended a Seder can all relate to this, and the stories about the objects on the Freedom Plate become a very powerful part of the Seder. Indeed, for some celebrants the freedom Plate and the telling of its stories have become practically the wholer "haggadah" for the Second Seder.

Alternatively, within the traditional structure of the Seder one might use either the passage “In every generation one rises up against us to destroy us” or “In very generation every human being must look upon her/himself as if we ourselves, not our ancestors only, come forth from slavery” as times to raise up the Freedom Plate and hear its stories.

These two references in the traditional haggadah to "Every generation" are perhaps the most basic teaching toward the exploration of new texts,, new approaches, new ceremonies in the celebration of the Seder and of all Pesach. Just as profound changes in the lives of ancient Israelites transformed the spring festivals of shepherds and barley-farmers into a spring festival of liberation, and just as the Roman conquest brought about the transformation of Pesach from Temple offerings to Seders in the home, so we may be experiencing transformations so profound as to call forth new approaches to the Festival of Freedom.


Perhaps the most thoroughly explored of all the aspects of Jewish food is that of how to cook for Pesach. In addition to some traditional recipes, we are making some available in one unexplored area. In the last decade the number of Jews who are vegetarians has grown considerably-and vegetarians who want to keep kosher for Pesach and who adhere to the special Ashkenazic prohibition on rice, peas, and beans find themselves in an unusually difficult position. Where do you find protein if meat, fish, and most of the grains and lentils can't be used?

Rose Sue Berstein, an Ashkenazic vegetarian who is a member of the chavurah-style group Fabrangen in Washington, DC, has collected a number of recipes for foods that are high in protein, low in cholesterol and calories, and fulfill both Jewish and vegetarian obligations.


For each two servings, use 1 medium (approx. 1 lb.) eggplant, 1 small green pepper, 1 medium onion, fr-8 large mushrooms and 4 oz. Kosher-for-Passover Cheddar cheese, grated. Slice eggplant lengthwise. Carefully scoop out inside, leaving shells intact. Chop into small cubes. Saute-using as little oil as possible-eggplant with sliced green pepper, onion and mushrooms until soft. Season with basil and ground black pepper. Fill eggplant cavities with this mixture, place in oiled baking dish and bake at 350° for 15 minutes. Then top each eggplant half with grated cheese and return to oven until cheese melts, about 10 minutes.


Use approx. 1 1/z lbs. zucchini, sliced in '/4 inch rounds. Saute the zucchini with 1 sliced onion, then pass through food mill or puree in blender, but reserve several slices for garnishing. Stir pureed zucchini into 4 cups milk over low heat. When thoroughly blended continue cooking over medium heat, for about 15 minutes, but do not bring to boil. Season to taste with salt, pepper and chives. Garnish with remaining zucchini slices. Can be served hot or cold; if served cold, add a spoonful of yoghurt or sour cream.


For four green peppers use 8 oz. farmer cheese, 2 eggs, 4 tablespoons chopped green onions, 1 teaspoon rosemary, salt and pepper as desired. Hollow out peppers, and fill with cheese mix. Then sprinkle grated cheddar cheese on top of each one, (use 2-3 oz. altogether) and top with sliced almonds. Place in oiled baking dish and bake at 350° approx. 30 minutes.

1 1/z lbs. brussels sprouts 5 medium tomatoes
1 medium onion 1 cup grated cheddar (can substitute)
butter cheese

Saute sliced onion in butter until transparent. Scald, peel and slice tomatoes. Arrange brussels sprouts in casserole with onions and tomatoes. Add up to 1/z cup water, then cover and bake at 325° for 45 minutes. When brussels sprouts are tender, sprinkle with grated cheese and place under broiler to brown. 4 servings.


1 red cabbage 1/z teaspoon salt
1 medium onion 1 tsp. cinnamon
1/s cup lemon juice (opt. 6 caraway seeds, 6 cloves, 4
1/4 cup honey whole allspice, 2 bay leaves)
2 apples 3 tablespoons oil or margarine
handful raisins 1/z cup water

Gently saute sliced onion in oil, then add water, lemon juice, honey, and flavorings. Mix well, then add finely sliced or grated cabbage. Cover and cook over medium heat about 15 minutes, then add sliced apples and raisins. Continue to simmer about 10 minutes longer. Tart apples work best, and if you wish, you can tie the spices in cheesecloth for easy removal. 6 servings.


2 large leeks I1/z cup milk
4 tablespoons butter salt
1 large potato pepper

Wash leeks well, slice, and saute in butter, but don't brown them. Peel and slice the potato very finely, add to the leeks and cook very slowly, stirring gently until soft. Add milk, salt and pepper. Force through a sieve, return to saucepan and serve warm. 4 servings.


1 cooked cauliflower 2 tablespoons butter
3 cooked and cubed potatoes 11/z teaspoons salt
4 cups milk '/a cup minced onion

Heat milk in a large saucepan, add water in which you cooked the vegetables, stir in butter and salt. Sieve cauliflower and potatoes in small quantities and return to saucepan when smooth enough for your taste. (If you can use a blender this is much easier-be sure to put enough liquid in with each batch of vegetables). Simmer while you add the onion. Optional vegetables for additions include diced celery, carrots, fresh chives, and/or parsley. 2 quarts.

Some more traditional Pesach recipes, from Hannah Waskow and Rose Gertz, my mother and grandmother, may their memories continue to be a blessing to me and to the world:


''/z cup matzah meal 3/a cup cold water
3/a teaspoon salt 3 eggs
1 tablespoon sugar

Combine matzah meal, salt, and sugar. Separate the eggs. Beat yolks slightly and combine with the water. Add the liquids to the dry ingredients. Allow to stand for 1/2 hour. (May be mixed this far the night before and kept in the refrigerator to save time the next morning.) Beat the egg whites until stiff. Fold into the matzah meal mixture. Drop by tablespoon onto a hot, well, greased frying pan or griddle and brown on both sides. Makes 10 to 12 latkes. Serve with cinnamon and sugar, sour cream, apple sauce, or syrup.


2 tablespoons fat 1 teaspoon salt
2 eggs slightly beaten 2 tablespoons soup stock or water
1/2 cup matzah meal

Mix fat and eggs together. Add matzah meal and salt which were first mixed together. When well blended, add soup stock or water. Cover mixing bowl and place in refrigerator for at least twenty minutes. (May be refrigerated until convenient to cook.) Using a two or three quart pot, bring salted water to a brisk boil. Reduce flame and into the slightly bubbling water drop balls formed from above mixture. (About the size of walnuts.) Cover pot and cook 40--60 minutes. Cut one matzah ball in half. If center is solid, return to pot and cook an additional 10 minutes. Have soup at room temperature, or warmer, and remove matzah balls from water to soup pot. When ready to serve allow soup to simmer for a few minutes. Will make eight to twelve balls. Packing these balls in 4's or 5's they may be frozen. To thaw, heat in small amount of boiling water and then transfer to soup. Very good in pea soup or noodle soup during the year. This recipe may be doubled with slight decrease in salt.


1 cup water 1 tablespoon sugar
1/3 cup chicken or vegetable fat or 4 eggs
margarine '/a teaspoon salt
1 cup matzah meal (full)

Bring to a boil fat, water, sugar, and salt. Then stir in matzah meal, boil a second more, and remove from fire. Mix thoroughly, and when cooled a little, beat in eggs one at a time. Grease or wet hands and roll dough into balls of about 2 inches diameter. Place on greased sheet, then dip forefinger in water and press a hole in center of each ball or omit and use as rolls. Bake at 425° for 20 minutes and at 375° for 25 minutes. They should sound hollow. Let cool in stove with door ajar.


7 eggs juice of lemon
1'/z cups sugar-sifted 1 cup (light) potato
Grated rind of 1 lemon starch, sifted twice
dash of salt

Separate 6 eggs. Beat 6 yolks and one whole egg together with rotary egg beater until frothy. Gradually add 1 cup of sifted sugar, lemon juice, and grated lemon rind until thick and well mixed. Beat the 6 egg whites until stiff and add the rest of the sugar gradually. Mix potato starch and salt and add to egg yolk mixture. Fold in beaten egg whites. Finely cut nuts may be added to batter or sprinkled on top.

Pour mixture into ungreased 10 inch tube pan. Bake 350° 45-50 minutes. Turn over on funnel until cold. Remove from pan by sliding a knife gently up and down between cake and pan to loosen.


3 cups mashed potatoes (regular or instant) 1 beaten egg 1/z teaspoon salt 5 tablespoons fat (chicken or margarine or combination)

Enough hot water (about 1/z cup) to make a loose mixture. Add matzah meal to make a dough that can be shaped into biscuit-like form. (Wet hands before handling dough.)

If gribenes (cracklings resulting from rendering chicken fat) are available, use. If not, sautee a large onion 1/2 lb. ground meat
garlic clove Ya lb. liver (chicken or beef)
Grind gribenes and meat mixture (or sauteed onion and meat). Add:

beaten egg t/z cup mashed potatoes
salt dash of oregano
pepper pinch of sugar
parsley flakes

Taste. May need a little more fat. Should have a smooth, velvety wellseasoned taste. Wet hands, form patty of potato dough, hollow center, insert a walnut-size piece of meat mixture and form dough over meat. Put on greased pan 2 inches apart. Lightly grease top. Bake about '/z hr., 400° or until light brown and crusty. Any left over filling may be frozen. Will make 12-15 knishes, depending on size.

2 cups fat and skin of chicken, duck or goose cut into small pieces. Melt in large heavy saucepan over medium low heat until almost completely rendered. Add 1 large diced onion and cook until onion is golden brown. (When adding onion be careful because the fat boils up and may catch on fire.) Cool and strain. Refrigerate fat. Freeze gribenes for later use.

Finally, the most delicious dessert for Pesach (or any other time) I have ever tasted: By Rabbi Phyllis Ocean Berman (my wife), a flour-less chocolate cake that both obeys all the rules of Pesach and carries in its very being the neo-rabbinical teaching that chocolate is the only objective proof of the existence of God. Rabbi Berman reports that she tried eight different recipes for chocolate cake for the eight nights of Pesach, and this one emerged the People's Free Choice:

Chocolate Glaze

3 ounces semisweet chocolate
3 ounces unsweetened chocolate or cocoa The Passover Haggadah (Schocken); Michael Strassfeld, A Passover Haggadah (Rabbinical Assembly); Central Conference of American Rabbis, with Leonard Baskin, A Passover Haggadah (CCAR); Haggadah for a Secular Celebration of Pesach (Sholom Aleichem Club of Philadelphia, 443 E. Wadsworth Ave., Philadelphia, PA); Pesach Haggada (Hashomer Hatzair, available through Americans for Progressive Israel, NYC); Haggadah for a Crocus Festival (Martin Buber Institute, Sebastopol, CA); Aviva Cantor, ed., A Jewish Women's Haggada, available from Lilith Magazine, NYC; my own The Freedom Seder (2d ed., Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1970); The Shalom Seders, compiled by New Jewish Agenda (Adama Books, New York, 1984), three unconventional Haggadot (one by me) focused on peacemaking; Roberta Kalechofsky, Haggadah for the Liberated Lamb, to affirm Jewish vegetarianism and to use for a vegetarian Seder (Micah Publications, 255 Humphrey St., Marblehead, MA 01945); and a videotaped Seder, called "In This Generation," for which I wrote the script, with special appearances by Carl Sagan and Elie Wiesel, dealing with ethical responsibilities in the nuclear age (The Shalom Center, 1987).

In the years since 1990, I have written the Seder of the Children of Abraham, Hagar, and Sarah (click here ); and the New Interfaith Freedom Seder for the Earth (on-line here .

For a double DVD of the filmed actual observances of the original Freedom Seder of 1969 and the 40th anniversary Interfaith Seder for the Earth, click here.

For an array of many essays on Pesach, click here.

See also two extraordinary and transformative translations of The Song of Songs –- one by Marcia Falk, the other by Ariel Bloch and Chana Bloch; the translation and reinterpretation of the Song in Rabbi Shefa Gold's In the Fever of Love and her chants from the Song in her CD Shir Delight; and my own chapters on the Song in my books Godwrestling (1978) , Godwrestling – Round 2 (1996), and in The Passionate Torah: Sex and Judaism (Danya Ruttenberg, editor).

And finally, see two stories by Phyllis O. Berman and me in the book called Tales of Tikkun: New Jewish Stories to Heal the Wounded World(Rowman & Littlefield). One is called "The Long Narrow Pharaoh and the Pass-Over People"; the other, "The Seven Who Danced into Paradise" (on the origins of the Song of Songs).
[As I noted at the beginning of this post, this essay is a considerable revised version of the chapter on Pesach in my book Seasons of Our Joy, originally published in 1982 and most re ently revised in 1990. It includes papercuts by Martin Farren and Joan Benjamin Farren and recipes by Hannah Waskow, Rose Gertz, and Rose Sue Berstein. It was praised then by feminist theologian Judith Plaskow, Rabbi David Saperstein of the Reform movement's Religious Action Center, and Rabbi Gordon Tucker, then Dean of the Conservative movement's Jewish Theological Seminary.

[In the years since, the book has often been called a classic, and has deeply influenced most writing about and practice of the Jewish festivals since it was published. Though all of it needs revision in the light of the creative renewal of Jewish ceremony in the last decades, people I meet "on the road" tell me its approach to the history, the spiritual meaning, and the actual practice of the festivals remains very helpful to them. Many members of other spiritual and religious communities have also told me it has enlightened them a great deal about Judaism as a whole –- not only the festival cycle.

Shalom Center members and subscribers can order the book from Beacon at a 10% discount with free shipping: Click here, add Seasons to your shopping cart, and when you are asked for a discount code type in "tent" (without quote marks). That will get you the discount and free shipping.

[I welcome comments and suggestions, either directly to me at or in the comments section below. –- Shalom, AW]]

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