Jews of all classes and ways of thinking look forward to the Passover holidays with the same eagerness as Christians do to Christmastide. It is for them the great event of the year. With the exception of the Temple sacrifices........
Jews of all classes and ways of thinking look forward to the Passover holidays with the same eagerness as Christians do to Christmastide. It is for them the great event of the year. With the exception of the Temple sacrifices, their manner of observing it differs but little from that which obtained in the time of Christ. Directions for keeping the feast were carefully laid down in the Law (Exodus 12,13, etc.), and carried out with great exactness after the Exile.
The preparation: The feast of the Passover begins on the fourteenth day of Nisan (a lunar month which roughly corresponds with the latter part of March and the first part of April) and ends with the twenty-first. The Jews now, as in ancient times, make elaborate preparations for the festival. Every house is subjected to a thorough spring cleaning. The Saturday preceding the day of the Pasch (fifteenth) is called a "Great Sabbath", because it is supposed that the tenth day of the month Abib (or Nisan) - when the Israelites were to select the Paschal lambs, before their deliverance from Egypt - fell on a Sabbath. On this Sabbath, the day of the following week on which the Passover is to fall is solemnly announced.
Some days before the feast, culinary and other utensils to be used during the festival are carefully and legally purified from all contact with leaven, or leavened bread. They are then said to be kosher. Special sets of cooking and table utensils are not unfrequently kept in every household. On the evening of the thirteenth, after dark, the head of the house makes the "search for leaven" according to the manner indicated in the Mishna (Tractate Pesachim, I), which is probably the custom followed by the Jews for at least two thousand years. The search is made by means of a lighted wax candle. A piece of ordinary, or leavened, bread is left in some conspicuous place, generally on a window-sill.
The search begins by a prayer containing a reference to the command to put away all leaven during the feast. The place of the piece of bread just mentioned is first marked to indicate the beginning of the search. The whole house is then carefully examined, and all fragments of leaven are carefully collected on a large spoon or scoop by means of a brush or bundle of quills. The search is ended by coming back to the piece of bread with which it began. This, also is collected on the scoop. The latter, with its contents, and the brush are then carefully tied up in a bundle and suspended over a lamp to prevent mice from scattering leaven during the night and necessitating a fresh search. The master of the house then proclaims in Aramaic that all the leaven that is in his house, of which he is unaware, is to him no more than dust.
During the forenoon of the next day (fourteenth) all the leaven that remains is burnt, and a similar declaration is made. From this time till the evening of the 22nd, when the feast ends, only unleavened bread is allowed. The legal time when the use of leavened bread was prohibited was understood to be the noon on the fourteenth Nisan; but the rabbis, in order to run no risks, and to place a hedge around the Law, anticipated this by one or two hours.