Hillel at John Carroll University presents 10 frequently asked questions about Passover:
1) What does “Passover” mean?
The holiday of Passover celebrates the Jewish people’s freedom from Egyptian rule. God brought many miracles, including 10 plagues upon the Egyptians. The 10th plague affected each Egyptian first born. God “passed over” the Jewish homes, sparing them of the plague, thus the name of the holiday.
2) What is the significance of matzah?
When the Jewish people left Egypt, they left in such haste that the dough they baked did not have the chance to rise. Thus, they only had flat bread to eat. The matzah reminds us of that bread.
3) What are the restrictions of Passover?
The Jew may not eat or even own any bread or leavened products for the entire week of Passover.
4) How is Passover food different than other food?
Passover food must not contain any “chometz” or leavening in it. This precludes any food that has flour in it, unless it’s made from matzah meal.
5) What is the seder?
The seder is the ceremonial dinner the first night of Passover, and the second outside of Israel. It includes much discussion about the exodus, drinking four cups of wine (or grape juice), and eating other ceremonial foods.
6) What is maror?
Maror are bitter herbs eaten at the seder to remind us of the bitter slavery in Egypt.
7) What are some of the other ceremonial foods?
A shank bone serves as a reminder of the Passover offering brought in the times of the Temple. Charoset is an apple-nut-wine-cinnamon mixture that serves as a reminder of the mortar the Jews had to make when enslaved in Egypt. Vegetables are dipped into salt water as a reminder of the tears the Jews shed while in Egypt, and a boiled egg serve as a reminder of other offerings brought in the times of the Temple in Jerusalem.
8) What are the four questions?
Traditionally, a child at the seder is encouraged to inquire about the differences of this night. Four differences are noted: 1) The eating of matzah and not bread. 2) The eating of bitter herbs. 3) The dipping of foods at the seder. 4) The reclining while eating at the seder.
9) What is the afikoman?
The afikoman is a piece of matzah that is broken at the seder and a part is hidden to be eaten later at the end of the meal. This is a reminder of our eternal hope for the final redemption. The afikoman is often hidden and children are encouraged to search for it. When successfully brought back to the table, the children will often receive some type of gift.
10) What preparations are necessary before Passover?
Because the Jew may not own chometz during Passover, he must clean his house out well to ensure that no chometz remains. Any remaining chometz is destroyed the day before Passover. It is also customary to sell any chometz still in one’s possession to a non-Jew. This is generally done under rabbinical supervision.