Passover (Hebrew, Yiddish: פֶּסַח Pesach, Tiberian, Modern Hebrew: Pesah, Pesakh, Yiddish: Peysekh, Paysakh, Paysokh) is a Jewish holy day and festival. It commemorates the story of the Exodus, in which the ancient Israelites were freed from slavery in Egypt. Passover begins on the 15th day of the month of Nisan, which is spring in the Northern Hemisphere, and is celebrated for seven or eight days. It is one of the most widely observed Jewish holidays.
In the narrative of the Exodus, the Bible tells that God helped the Children of Israel escape slavery in Egypt by inflicting ten plagues upon the Egyptians before Pharaoh would release his Israelite slaves; the tenth and worst of the plagues was the slaughter of the first-born. The Israelites were instructed to mark the doorposts of their homes with the blood of a spring lamb and, upon seeing this, the spirit of the Lord passed over these homes, hence the term "passover".When Pharaoh freed the Israelites, it is said that they left in such a hurry that they could not wait for bread to rise. In commemoration, for the duration of Passover no leavened bread is eaten, for which reason it is called "The Festival of the Unleavened Bread". Matzo (flat unleavened bread) is the primary symbol of the holiday.
Together with Shavuot ("Pentecost") and Sukkot ("Tabernacles"), Passover is one of the three pilgrimage festivals (Shalosh Regalim) during which the entire Jewish populace historically made a pilgrimage to the Temple in Jerusalem. Samaritans still make this pilgrimage to Mount Gerizim, but only men participate in public worship.
The commandment to keep Passover is recorded in the Torah in the Book of Leviticus:
In the first month, on the fourteenth day of the month between the two evenings is the lord's Passover. And on the fifteenth day of the same month is the feast of unleavened bread unto the lord; seven days ye shall eat unleavened bread. In the first day ye shall have a holy convocation; ye shall do no manner of servile work. And ye shall bring an offering made by fire unto the lord seven days; in the seventh day is a holy convocation; ye shall do no manner of servile work. (Leviticus 23:5)
The biblical regulations for the observance of the festival require that all leavening be disposed of before the beginning of the 15th of Nisan. An unblemished lamb or goat is to be set apart on Nisan 10, and slaughtered on Nisan 14 "between the two evenings", a phrase which is, however, not defined. It is then to be eaten "that night", Nisan 15, roasted, without the removal of its internal organs with unleavened bread and bitter herbs.Nothing of the sacrifice on which the sun rises may be eaten, but must be burned. The sacrifices may only be performed in a specific place prescribed by God (for Judaism, Jerusalem and for Samaritans Mount Grezim).
The biblical regulations pertaining to the original Passover also include how the meal is to be eaten: "with your loins girded, your shoes on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and ye shall eat it in haste: it is the lord's passover" (Exodus 12:11).
Some of these details can be corroborated, and to some extent amplified, in extrabiblical sources. The removal (or "sealing up") of the leaven is referred to the Elephantine papyri, an Aramaic papyrus from 5th century BCE Elephantine in Egypt. The slaughter of the lambs on the 14th is mentioned in The Book of Jubilees, a Jewish work of the Ptolemaic period, and by the Herodian-era writers Josephus and Philo. These sources also indicate that "between the two evenings" was taken to mean the afternoon. Jubilees states the sacrifice was eaten that night, and together with Josephus states that nothing of the sacrifice was allowed to remain until morning. Philo states that the banquet included hymns and prayers.
The Biblical commandments concerning the Passover (and the Feast of Unleavened Bread) stress the importance of remembering:
And thou shalt remember that thou wast a bondman in Egypt; and thou shalt observe and do these statutes." (Deuteronomy 16:12)
Exodus 12:14 commands, in reference to God's sparing of the firstborn from the Tenth Plague:
And this day shall be unto you for a memorial, and ye shall keep it a feast to the lord; throughout your generations ye shall keep it a feast by an ordinance for ever.
Exodus 13:3 repeats the command to remember:
Remember this day, in which you came out of Egypt, out of the house of bondage, for by strength the hand of the LORD brought you out from this place.