Question:  What is it significance of the date passover falls on and the phase of the moon?

Answer: The date on which to observe Passover comes from the Torah -- it is the anniversary of the day upon which God brought the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt.  It occurred on the 15th of the month of Nisan, which coincides with a full moon.


Question:  Is Passover the same time/date as Easter and are presents given?

Answer: Passover does not necessarily fall on the same date as Easter, though it usually happens that Easter falls on the Sunday during Passover.  Presents are not exchanged on Passover.


Question:  Is Passover the first Jewish holiday the Jews celebrated?

Answer: You are correct -- Passover was the first holiday that the Israelites celebrated.  It was not until they arrived at Mount Sinai after the Exodus from Egypt that they were given the full list of Biblical Festivals.


Question:  How many days should Passover be observed?  Please include any references to your response that is indicated in the Torah.

Answer: Before I answer your question, as a word of background, you need to keep in mind that Judaism, ever since the destruction of the second Temple in 70 C.E. is no longer a Biblical religion; rather, it is a rabbinic religion rooted very deeply in the words of the Torah and Tanakh.  We believe in a written Torah and an oral Torah.  The oral Torah is the basis for the Talmud.

According to the Torah, in Exodus 12:16-20; Leviticus 23:5-8; Numbers 28:16-25; and Deuteronomy 16:1-8; we are commanded to observe Pesah for 7 days.  The first and last (seventh) days are observed as festival days, upon which we do not work.

But that isn't the end of the story.  Jews living inside the land of Israel still observe the 7 days of Pesah, but Jews outside Israel, since early Talmudic times, observe 8 days of Pesah - the first two and the last two days are observed as festival days, upon which no work is done.  The extra day comes from a historical uncertainty in the calculation of the lunar calendar.

In the early days of the calculation of the Jewish calender, the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem would interview witnesses claiming to have seen the new moon, and when they were satisfied that they had found a reliable witness, they would proclaim the beginning of a new month.  They would then light signal fires on the hills to inform the outlying areas that the new month was beginning.  In this way, by signal fires lit on every tall mountain, the entire Jewish community would learn about the new month.

Unfortunately, a rival group called Samaritans began to proclaim their own new month by lighting fires, and confuse the process of the Sanhedrin.  They then turned to a new system, of sending out messengers to inform the outlying communities about the proclamation of the new month.  However, because of the time it took the messengers to travel to the outlying areas, they did not always get notice of what day the month began until somewhat late in the month.

They knew, however, that a lunar month is either 29 or 30 days long, so they could guess the starting date for a given month within a day, based on the day on which the messenger told them the previous month had begun.

For example:  If the month of Adar began on a certain day, then the month of Nisan would have to begin on either the 29th or 30th day following.  Passover, which falls on the 15th of Nisan, would begin on the 44th or 45th day following the first of Adar.

Communities outside of Israel begin to celebrate the Seder on both nights, in order to ensure that they would celebrate Passover on the correct day.  Similarly, in order to ensure that they observed the proper seven days of Pesah, they also began to observe an extra day at the end.  The same hold true for the two days of Shavuot and two festival days at the beginning and end of Sukkot/Shemini Atzeret.


Question:  Do teachers have to work on Passover if they are Jewish?  How long is Passover?

Answer: Passover for eight days.  The first two days and the last two days are considered festival days, while the intermediary days are half-festival days.  On Festivals, like on Shabbat, work is not permitted.  Work is permitted on the intermediary days.  Please note that I am assuming that by "work," you mean going to a regular daily teaching job like any other day in the school year.  Thus, my answer applies not only to teachers, but to any Jew.


Question:  Many years ago I was attending a Pasover seder at one of synagogues. I was a college student looking for any additional source of income. I saw a flyer offering a job in the same synagogue. Next morning I called in, answering machine kicked in and I left a message. My call was never returned. Several weeks later I tried to follow up, got the Rabbi on the phone and he told me, “I do not hire people who use the telephone during Passover.”  Is the Rabbi within his right ( from both legal and religious points of view) to make such a determination?

Answer: It is possible that one of the criteria of the job for which you were applying is that the candidate must be observant - of Shabbat, holidays, kashrut, etc, and it is within the discretion of a synagogue or a rabbi to place these restrictions on certain of their employees - youth workers and teachers, for example.  Certainly, synagogues expect that their rabbis and cantors will be observant, and they also have the right to expect that behavior of other staff whom they consider to be role models.  If you had called at another time, and been able to make an appointment for an interview with the rabbi, he might have asked you if you were "shomer Shabbat."  If your answer was no, he might have told you that he could not hire you.  I hesitate to judge another rabbi's halakhic decisions within his domain.  I would not have handled your call the same way - and I would probably not have made the same decision he did.  But to answer your question:  Yes, it very well might have been his right to make such a determination.


Question:  On Passover we have to look for the hametz holding a candle this was started a very long ago why dosen't anyone change the rule to holding a flashlight instead ?  I have seen so many peoples houses burn down because of this tradition. Shouldn't we change the rules?  How did this tradition of holding a candle started anyway and why?

Answer: First of all, I urge people to be very careful while using a candle, so they do not start a fire.  I am astonished to read that you know "many" people who have burned down their houses searching for hametz!

The reason a candle is used is because its flame forces people to search very carefully in corners, because its range is fairly small.  Using a flashlight beam, which throws light some distance, would allow us to search a whole room while standing in the center.  The point of a candle is to force us to look very carefully in every nook and cranny, and seriously participate in the mitzvah of ridding our homes of hametz.  In addition, using overhead lights makes shadows under and behind objects, and may cause us to miss something which is hidden by a shadow.

There is something very powerful and beautiful, after all the work of cleaning the house is finished, about doing the mitzvah of bedikat hametz on the night before Pesah by candlelight.  There is an emotional power of candles that cannot be duplicated by electric lights or flashlights.


Question:  Why in the Haggadah is only one part written in Aramaic?

Answer: The Aramaic part of the Hagaddah was written at a time when Jews spoke Aramaic as their first language.  Since it was very important for all Jews to understand what they were saying at the beginning of the Hagaddah, it was said in Aramaic.


Question:  Why is it that Moses, who is a central figure in Exodus, is never mentioned in the Hagadah?

Answer: The reason that Moses is not mentioned in the Haggadah is to stress the point that he is in fact NOT the central figure of the Exodus - God is!

Despite all that Moses did, both the Torah and the Talmud are careful to point out that Moses was only human, never to be mistaken for a figure to be worshipped.  Moses was not a great speaker, he was a reluctant leader, he made mistakes, and he was rarely put in the position to be the sole intercessor between the people and God.  He was, in the words of a very old midrash, the most humble of human beings.

Along similar lines, Moses’s burial location is not revealed by the Torah so that later generations would not overemphasize his role as a leader, and make pilgrimage to his grave.


Question:  I am having a seder Saturday night (Passover will begin earlier in the week) and would like a full seder for my family, but my sister in law told me I can only have the full seder the first two nights.  Can I have a full seder?

Answer: The mitzvah of Pesah is to have a Seder on the first two nights.  There is no mitzvah to do a Seder on any other night.  Thus, if you do not do a Seder on the first two nights, you will not be fulfilling your obligation to celebrate the Passover Seder by having one on Saturday night.

There are a number of blessings (particularly Kiddush, and other blessings over wine) and prayers which would are only appropriate to do on the first Yom Tov evenings of the Seder.  However, much of the Seder could be done on Saturday night as “Torah study,” as long as you omit the blessings.  Again, I am not recommending this, because I believe it is your mitzvah (obligation) to participate in two Sedarim, on Wednesday and Thursday night, and any meal resembling a Seder on Saturday night would not fulfill your obligation.


Question:  Why are there two seders?  Ae they performed the exact same way on both nights?

Answer: The answer to your question goes back to the early days of the calculation of the Jewish calender.  Originally, the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem would interview witnesses claiming to have seen the new moon, and when they were satisfied that they had found a reliable witness, they would proclaim the beginning of a new month.  They would then light signal fires on the hills to inform the outlying areas that the new month was beginning.  In this way, by signal fires lit on every tall mountain, the entire Jewish community would learn about the new month.

Unfortunately, a rival group of Samaritans began to proclaim their own new month by lighting fires, and confuse the process of the Sanhedrin.  They then turned to a new system, of sending out messengers to inform the outlying communities about the proclamation of the new month.  However, because of the time it took the messengers to travel to the outlying areas, they did not always get notice of what day the month began until somewhat late in the month.

They knew, however, that a lunar month is either 29 or 30 days long, so they could guess the starting date for a given month within a day, based on the day on which the messenger told them the previous month had begun.

For example:  If the month of Adar began on a certain day, then the month of Nisan would have to begin either 29 or 30 days later.  Passover, which falls on the 15th of Nisan, would begin on the 44th or 45th day after the first of Adar.  Communities outside of Israel begin to celebrate the Seder on both nights, in order to ensure that they would celebrate Passover on the correct day.  The same hold true for the two festival days at the end of Pesah, the two days of Shavuot, and two festival days at the beginning and end of Sukkot/Shemini Atzeret.

The basic structure of the Seder is identical both nights, though in practice they need not be identical.  By varying they way you discuss the Maggid story of the Exodus, by asking different questions, using different Haggadot, inviting different guests or going to a different home, the second Seder can be made fresh and interesting.


Question:  What is the Conservative movement’s interpretation of Exodus 12 verse 48 and what does it mean in terms of life today?  Much to my dismay, I have been told by a Rabbi that we must not invite Gentiles to our Seder on the first night (or to the first night of any holiday).  Since some of my family members are not Jewish, I find this very unpalatable.

Answer: Exodus 12:48 only applies to the eating of the Pesah offering - therefore, it does not apply today, since we no longer offer or eat the sacrifice.  However, there are other Halakhic issues, which may have been the reason that the rabbi whom you asked told you not to invite Gentiles to the Seder.

The possible problem comes from the restriction on work on Yom Tov (such as Pesah).  Unlike on Shabbat, when cooking is not permitted at all, cooking on Yom Tov for the purpose of the festival is permitted.  It is, however, not permitted to cook for non-Jews on Yom Tov, since it is not a specific mitzvah for non-Jews to celebrate the festival.  This would be a greater concern for the second seder than the first, since most of the food for the first Seder would have been cooked before the onset of the festival.  Even with respect to the second Seder, however, the prohibition is a problem only if you are specifically cooking for a non-Jew.  If you are making a Seder, preparing a lot of food for a number of guests, a few of whom happened not to be Jewish, it is not really a halakhic problem to invite them to the Seder.


Question:  Why do we invite guests after 4 parts of the Seder have passed?

Answer: Although we issue the invitation for guests to join us at that point, we certainly don’t expect people to walk into the Seder at that point, though I believe there is a Sephardi custom for the children to dress as Elijah and enter the room as we invite guests.  In point of fact, even if we were to invite guests as the first step of the Seder, we still would have had to invite them beforehand!  So the invitation is issued more as a thematic structure of Pesah than as a serious invitation.

When we recite “Ha Lachma” at the beginning of the Magid section of the Haggadah and issue an invitation of hospitality, we set the tone for the evening by reviewing the major themes of the Seder, including the transition from poverty and afliction to comfort and wealth, slavery to freedom, exile to the land of Israel, and the mitzvah of hospitality and creating community.


Question:  What is the symbolism for the egg on passover?

Answer: The egg represents one of the special Pesah festive offerings during Temple times.  It also represents Spring -- one of the names of Pesah is “The Spring Festival,” Hag Ha’aviv.


Question:  I am a Roman Catholic Christian and our Church recognizes its roots lie within the Jewish Tradition.  In an attempt to understand the relationship between the two, I’ve only just begun looking into the Jewish Faith.  My question is, What are the names of the four cups used during the passover celebration and what are their significance?  I was unable to locate an answer at this site even though it seems basic enough.

Answer: There is no specific name for each of the four cups, although together they are known as the arba kosot in Hebrew, which simply means, “four cups.”

According to a Talmudic midrash, each cup represents one verb in God’s promise to redeem the Israelites from Egypt (Exodus 6:6-7), “I will bring you out from under the burdens of Egypt, and I will deliver you out of their bondage, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgements and I will take you to me for a people.”

The first cup sanctifies the day; the second cup is drunk at the end of the story of Pesah; the third cup is drunk after the Birkat Hamazon, Grace after Meals; and the final cup is drunk after the recitation of Hallel, a series of Psalms of praise to God.


Question:  What is the meaning of Miriam’s cup which is used at the Passover Seder?

Answer: I have done some research, but have been unable to locate the original source for Miriam’s cup.  It is apparently a creation of modern Jewish feminists to honor Miriam’s role in the Exodus from Egypt.  Last spring, Moment Magazine had an article about it.

There is a Midrash that a well of water followed the Israelites around the wilderness in honor of Miriam.  When she died, the well disappeared.  Water is a metaphor for Torah - the former satisfies our physical thirst, the latter satisfies our spiritual thirst.  The new tradition of Miriam’s cup is to place a cup of water next to Elijah’s cup of wine.


Question:  How  come  the  middle  matzoh  is  chosen  for  the  afikoman?

Answer: First, some background behind the three matzot (plural of matzah):

When we eat matzah, we say three different things; two berachot (blessings), and then the paragraph about the Hillel sandwich.

The first matzah corresponds to the blessing of “Hamotzi lechem min Ha’aretz” - the regular blessing over bread.

The second matzah corresponds to the blessing of “asher kidshanu b’mitzvotav v’tzivanu al achilat matzah” - the blessing for the mitzvah of eating matzah.

The third matzah is used for the Hillel sandwich.

Just after we break the matzah, we begin the maggid section of the Haggadah, telling the story of Passover.  This section begins by holding up the matzah and saying, Ha Lachma anya, “This is the bread of affliction.”  The broken matzah serves as a sign of the affliction.

Now, to the answer to your question.  We break the middle matzah for two reasons:  First, because the second (middle) matzah specifically corresponds to the second blessing for the mitzvah of eating matzah, and the mitzvah is to eat the matzah while keeping in mind that we are eating bread of affliction (broken matzah!); and second, because two whole matzot sitting together would form a perfect unit, like the two challahs we use on a Shabbat evening.  Therefore, we separate the two whole matzot by a broken matzah in the middle which serves as a barrier between two whole matzot to remind us of imperfection and affliction.


Question:  Why does the child ask the ma nishtana if he asked it last year?

Answer: The original idea of asking questions at the Seder was to stimulate more questions and more discussion.  Those particular questions are only samples; in fact, scholar believe that the Mishnah originally only had three questions, and although most edited versions today have four, they are not the same four as we have in our Pesah Hagaddah.  Because the act of asking questions is of primary importance, we continue to ask the four questions as well as the questions of the four children year after year, to emphasize the special and unusual character of our Passover Seder.

May your Seder be full of interesting questions and answers!


Question:  I read the Mishna to state 4 questions, not 3.  How did you get 3?

Answer: Pesahim 10:4, see the Danby translation.  The three questions are:

1)  why do we dip twice, not once?
2)  why do we eat matza?
3)  why do we eat roast meat?

If you look in the Albeck edition of the Mishnah, he has four questions, but has a note on the question regarding bitter herbs, that this question is missing in many manuscripts.


Question:  In the Schottenstein edition of the Talmud (Artscroll, which I believe

is the Vilna shas) the first mishna on page 116 lists 4 questions:

1. bread-matza
2. greens-bitter herbs
3. roasted only
4. dip twice

The Soncino edition says the same.

So you are saying that the versions of the mishna you are using are different?  I’ve never seen those editions.  But why would they be different?

Answer: The original version of the mishnah had only three, but the editing of the Mishnah itself is complicated.  The tosephta has a slightly different list of questions.  Later versions of the Mishnah apparently conflated the questions, coming up with four, which corresponds nicely to the number of cups of wine and types of children.


Question:  During the Passover service, we read about the 4 sons. Why does the service not include a passage on a way to rehabilitate the “wicked” son?  My Haggadah has nothing on the means to set him straight. It’s as if we know he won’t listen and so it’s not worth trying. Kids asked the question and we had no good answer.

Answer: On the contrary, I think the answer given to the wicked son is designed to be a way to set him straight.  To expand on the answer given in the Hagaddah, you tell him that by removing himself from the Jewish community, he has severed his link with God’s covenant.  Had he been in Egypt, he would not have been deserving to leave Egypt with the Israelites, but instead would be remained in servitude.

This may not be the way you or I would choose to answer.  I would treat it pastorally, and sit down with him to explore the reasons he feels alienated from the Jewish community, and see what I could do to help him find an entrance point.  But let me give you a real example of such a conversation that I had, and how in the end I used the Hagaddah’s response to the wicked child.

I knew a family who became Hebrew Christian.  They were pretty quiet about it, and they retained their synagogue membership but became fairly inactive.  We talked periodically, but I rarely saw them.  One day, I saw an ad in the newspaper about Rosh Hashanah/Yom Kippur services that this couple was organizing at a church with the help of the “Jews for Jesus” organization.

I contacted them, and told them I was not happy about this, and offered to spend time with them studying Jewish vs. Christian approached to Bible and Jewish tradition.  After six months, during which they attempted to convert me and I demonstrated why their approach to Judaism was Christian, not authentically Jewish, I told them that they had to make a choice -- They could be Jewish, and retain synagogue privileges, or they could be Christian, and lose the privilege of synagogue membership, aliyot, and other honors.  Essentially, I gave them the Hagaddah’s answer to the wicked child.  Either you’re in the Jewish community, with all its responsibilities and benefits, or you’re outside.  They chose outside.


Question:  I would like to know why there is the tradition of the empty chair and setting for Elijah.  What is the significance of Elijah’s anticipated presence/ or absence?  What was the beginning of this tradition?

Answer: I have never encountered a tradition of setting an empty chair and place setting for Elijah.  However, the cup of wine is poured for Elijah at the Passover Seder because according to tradition, Elijah is considered the one who will announce the coming of the Messiah.  Therefore, at Pesah (as well as at Havdalah and at a Brit Milah) we hope for the speedy coming of the messianic era by welcoming Elijah.  It is particularly appropriate at Pesah, which is a story of a past redemption, to pray for a future redemption.

Elijah is connected with the Messiah because he was one of the Biblical characters who did not die, but rather ascended directly to heaven.

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