History: Learning History: Passover

Religion is the principal cause of tension in the Middle East, which is therefore a prime target for our Learning History project.  Today we received a visit from a close Jewish friend, who said that today was Passover and went into a long account of Passover food. Checking on this subject about which I knew nothing, I found this:
It refers to the fact that G-d "passed over" the houses of the Jews when he was slaying the firstborn of Egypt. In English, the holiday is known as Passover.  Probably the most significant observance related to Pesach involves the removal of chametz (leaven; sounds like "hum it's" with that Scottish ch) from our homes. This commemorates the fact that the Jews leaving Egypt were in a hurry, and did not have time to let their bread rise. It is also a symbolic way of removing the "puffiness" (arrogance, pride) from our souls. Chametz includes anything made from the five major grains (wheat, rye, barley, oats and spelt) that has not been completely cooked within 18 minutes after coming into contact with water. Orthodox Jews of Ashkenazic background also avoid rice, corn, peanuts, and legumes (beans) as if they were chametz. All of these items are commonly used to make bread, thus use of them was prohibited to avoid any confusion. Such additional items are referred to as "kitniyot."

We may not eat chametz during Pesach; we may not even own it or derive benefit from it. We may not even feed it to our pets or cattle. All chametz, including utensils used to cook chametz, must either be disposed of or sold to a non-Jew (they can be repurchased after the holiday). Pets' diets must be changed for the holiday, or the pets must be sold to a non-Jew (like the food and utensils, the pets can be repurchased after the holiday ends). You can sell your chametz online through Chabad-Lubavitch. I have noticed that many non-Jews and non-observant Jews mock this practice of selling chametz as an artificial technicality. I assure you that this sale is very real and legally binding.

RH: I have italicized the brief reference to God killing the Egyptians. How do Israeli and Egyptian textbooks relate this story? I would be most grateful if someone (possibly Ed Jajko) can tell us.  How do Muslims view the Old Testament, which tells history from a Jewish viewpoint?-
Cameron Sawyer writes:The extent to which festivals in one religion are derived or related to festivals in other religions is remarkable.  "Passover" is "Pascha" or "Paskha", the name for both Passover and Easter in most European languages, derived from Aramaic through Greek and meaning "to pass over".  Passover and Easter are so closely related that one rather learned writer goes to great pains to explain that there are any differences at all (http://www.lamblion.net/Articles/ScottJones/easter_or_passover1.htm).  In Russian, the two festivals have exactly the same name -- "Paskha" -- and the word is often qualified as "Christian Paskha" or "Jewish Paskha", as if they are really the same festival in two variants.
In the Germanic languages, Easter is Ostern or Easter, which words derive from some or another Pagan spring festival into which the Easter festival was merged (see www.enzyklop.net/index.php/Ostern).  According to Alexander Hislop (http://philologos.org/__eb-ttb/sect32.htm), the English word "Easter" goes back to the Babylonian God Astarte or Ishtar, who was worshipped by the Druids in pre-Christian Britain.
Hislop has interesting observations about the reason why all these festivals -- Jewish, Christian, and Pagan -- got merged:
"To conciliate the Pagans to nominal Christianity, Rome, pursuing its usual policy, took measures to get the Christian and Pagan festivals amalgamated, and, by a complicated but skilful adjustment of the calendar, it was found no difficult matter, in general, to get Paganism and Christianity--now far sunk in idolatry--in this as in so many other things, to shake hands. The instrument in accomplishing this amalgamation was the abbot Dionysius the Little, to whom also we owe it, as modern chronologers have demonstrated, that the date of the Christian era, or of the birth of Christ Himself, was moved FOUR YEARS from the true time. Whether this was done through ignorance or design may be matter of question; but there seems to be no doubt of the fact, that the birth of the Lord Jesus was made full four years later than the truth. This change of the calendar in regard to Easter was attended with momentous consequences. It brought into the Church the grossest corruption and the rankest superstition in connection with the abstinence of Lent. Let any one only read the atrocities that were commemorated during the "sacred fast" or Pagan Lent, as described by Arnobius and Clemens Alexandrinus, and surely he must blush for the Christianity of those who, with the full knowledge of all these abominations, "went down to Egypt for help" to stir up the languid devotion of the degenerate Church, and who could find no more excellent way to "revive" it, than by borrowing from so polluted a source; the absurdities and abominations connected with which the early Christian writers had held up to scorn. That Christians should ever think of introducing the Pagan abstinence of Lent was a sign of evil; it showed how low they had sunk, and it was also a cause of evil; it inevitably led to deeper degradation. Originally, even in Rome, Lent, with the preceding revelries of the Carnival, was entirely unknown; and even when fasting before the Christian Pasch was held to be necessary, it was by slow steps that, in this respect, it came to conform with the ritual of Paganism. What may have been the period of fasting in the Roman Church before sitting of the Nicene Council does not very clearly appear, but for a considerable period after that Council, we have distinct evidence that it did not exceed three weeks." (Hislop, op.cit.).

RH: As far as I know, Lent is almost dead, but carnival thrives all around what was called Christendom. Even Chudleigh, which I trust WAIS literally put on the (National Geographic) map, advertises its carnival. This proves that humans prefer life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness to abstinence.
In the Germanic languages, Easter is Ostern or Easter, which words derive from some or another Pagan spring festival into which the Easter festival was merged. George Sassoon adds: In Serbo-Croat, Easter is Uskrs, meaning more or less "down from the cross".  Sorry I don't know the word for Passover, and my communist-published dictionary doesn't have it.  The difference from Russian is interesting.  I don't have dictionaries for other Slav languages handy. But I do have a Hungarian one: Easter and Passover = hu'sve't, my Castilian-Basque one has pascua=Eguberri, and in Albanian it is Pashke".  A French-Breton dictionary is on order; of the Celtic languages, I can contribute Scottish Gaelic Easter = Caisg.

RH; Spanish is unusual in that "pascua" can be used for a number of holy days:  Christmas, Epiphany, Easter, Whit Sunday  In the plural, "pascuas" means the period between Christmas and Epiphany.  The real question is: how many people are celebrating these holy days?

Ronald Hilton 2005


last updated: June 10, 2005