What are some Ashkenazi Passover / Pesach Customs And Traditions ?
Note: Regarding all dates on this Ashkenazic Passover / Pesach Customs and Traditions web page, see the footnote near the bottom of this web page.
First off, what does Ashkenazic, Ashkenazi, and Ashkenazim mean? All these Hebrew words are derived from the Hebrew word "Ashkenaz" which was originally mentioned in the Tanakh or Hebrew Bible as the designation of a son of Gomer and a grandson of Japheth (Genesis 10:3), but in the Early to Middle Ages when Jews began to settle in the Rhineland area of Germany, the word "Ashkenaz" became identified with Germany and with German-controlled areas where Jews lived, and the Jews that had settled in the Rhineland area of Germany became known as "Ashkenazim" ("German-Jews" in Hebrew).
"Ashkenazim", "Ashkenazi Jews", or "Ashkenazic Jews" originally referred to German-Jews, with the word "Ashkenazi" denoting a German-Jewish person. An entire culture developed within the German-Jewish or Ashkenazi community, including prayer rites ("nusach", "nusah" or "nusakh" in Hebrew), legal concepts, mores, religious traditions, etc.
When Rhinelander Jews or Ashkenazi Jews began migrating to other parts of Germany and to other Central, Northwestern and Eastern European countries and to Jewish communities within those nations, they exerted a strong cultural and religious influence on the already established Jews living in those nations to the point where the definitions for "Ashkenazi", "Ashkenazic" and "Ashkenazim" were eventually extended to refer to all Jews who lived in or whose ancestors came from Central, Northwestern, and Eastern European countries who adopted the Ashkenazic cultural and religious traditions of the original Ashkenazim of Germany. So now that you know who Ashkenazim are, it's time to discover selected Ashkenazi Passover / Pesach customs and traditions practised by different Ashkenazi Jewish communities in different countries around the world.
Ashkenazic Passover / Pesach customs and traditions can vary from region to region, country to country, city to city, community to community, and family to family. Many Ashkenazic customs and traditions involved assimilating Passover rituals with the culinary, musical, and linguistic traditions of the surrounding peoples in the areas where Ashkenazim lived. The following is a selected list of Ashkenazic Passover customs and traditions:
- Ashkenazic Passover / Pesach Customs and Traditions #1: Passover Food - Ashkenazim are forbidden to consume any of the 5 forbidden grains during the Passover festival (barley, oats, rye, spelt, and wheat), except when making matzah, in which case any of the 5 grains MUST be used so that it simulates the situation that the Hebrews experienced when they tried to bake their bread as they prepared to flee Egypt. Furthermore, Ashkenazim are forbidden to come in contact with or even have in their possession in their household any chametz. Chametz includes leavened foods, drinks and ingredients that are made from or contain wheat, rye, barley, oats or spelt. Therefore, all grain products such as breads, cereals and other breakfast foods, grain alcohol, grain vinegar and malts, are forbidden during Passover. However, alcohol and/or wine alcohol that uses fermentation ingredients which fall under the category of foods that are permitted to be used during Pesach/Passover based on the rulings of various Ashkenazi rabbis are Kosher for Passover and, provided all other ingredients in the alcohol and/or wine alcohol fall under this category, means that this type of alcohol and/or wine alcohol is permitted to be used during the Pesach/Passover festival. As a result, petroleum-derived alcohol and/or wine alcohol is kosher for Passover and is commonly used for the Pesach/Passover festival. Ashkenazim are also forbidden to eat kitniyos or kitnios [generally speaking, kitniyos or kitnios (singular form: "kitnis" or "kitnees") include small fleshless seeds of annual plants that an individual might ground into flour], and their derivatives in other products. Examples are: ascorbic acid, calcium ascorbate, caraway seeds, castor sugar, chick peas, citric acid, corn, custard powder, dextrose, dried beans, dried peas, glucose, green beans, icing sugar, lecithin, lentils, mustard, rice, sesame seeds, soya beans, soya products, starch, sunflower seeds, tofu, and any other pulse or legumes (pods which contain edible seeds), and their derivatives in food and beverage products in cooking during the Passover festival. Despite these restrictions, Sephardim and Ashkenazim agree that having possession of kitniyos (but not consumption of kitniyos for most Ashkenazim and some Sephardim) is permitted during the Passover festival. However, since this rabbinical ban was initiated in the Middle Ages, Ashkenazic rabbinical opinions have since differed concerning the ban on using kitniyos as well as the use of baking soda and baking powder during the Passover festival. Some rabbis say that to make the Passover festival unique and to avoid confusion with fermenting foods used as ingredients in baking, they will forbid the use of baking soda and baking powder during the Passover festival. Other rabbis claim that since baking soda is simply sodium bicarbonate which is not on the banned list of foods and ingredients for Passover, they will allow its use for Passover. These and/or other rabbis also say that as long as baking powder does not contain cornstarch or other banned foods or ingredients to be avoided during Passover, they will also permit the use of baking powder during the Passover festival. In fact, there are "Kosher for Passover" versions of baking soda and baking powder. However, breads, cookies, and cakes and any other fermented or leavened products made with fermenting or leavening grains or yeast are forbidden during the Passover festival. However, the Ashkenazic rabbis ruled that potatoes were permitted to be eaten during Passover because they were the primary food staple in Europe in medieval times when many Jews lived there. Although Ashkenazim are forbidden to eat barley, oats, rye, spelt, and wheat in foods, they must use any of these five grains when making matzah to fulfill the description of the events told in Exodus 12:39 which state that the dough used by the Israelites to bake their bread while fleeing Egypt was unleavened when they ate it because they did not have time to wait for it to become leavened. This means that the Israelities used dough that could have become leavened but wasn't when they ate it. Similarly, the five grains mentioned above - barley, oats, rye, spelt, and wheat - have the potential to become leavened when any of them are combined with water, but they are baked before they become leavened, similar to the events told in Exodus 12:39.
- Ashkenazic Passover / Pesach Customs and Traditions #2: Passover Food - The basic charoset recipe of honey, wine, nuts, fruit, and spices is common to all Ashkenazim. The species of the ingredient may vary from one community or family to the next; in the case of the nuts, one family may add almonds whereas another family might add cashews for the charoset recipe.
- Ashkenazic Passover / Pesach Customs and Traditions #3: Passover Food - Ashkenazi Ultra-Orthodox Jews will not eat matzah meal dumplings (called "Knaidlach" in Yiddish), or matzah and chocolate layer cake, because they are concerned it may ferment slightly. However, Lithuanian Jews - even the Ultra-Orthodox Jews - will eat a fermented beet soup called Risel Borscht. Other Ashkenazim will also eat borscht and Khreyn, a condiment made with grated horseradish and colored with beet juice.
- Ashkenazic Passover / Pesach Customs and Traditions #4: Passover Food - Ashkenazi Jews eat honey cakes, cinnamon balls, various Passover tortes, plava cake (a sponge cake with ground almonds replacing the flour), candies containing either carrots, ginger, or cinnamon, made-for-Passover mandelbroit (also: mandelbrot. Meaning of mandelbroit: "almond bread" in German and Yiddish. It is a kind of bread-shaped cookie with eggs, almonds and cinnamon in it), and coconut cakes as well as other kinds of made-for-Passover cakes such as nut cakes and sponge cake. Compote is also another favorite Passover dessert.
- Ashkenazic Passover / Pesach Customs and Traditions #5: Pre-Passover Custom : Bedikat Chametz (the search for leaven) - The pre-Passover custom of searching for and picking up leavening in the household means that certain tools are used to pick up the leaven. Ashkenazim use a feather and wooden spoon to pick up the chametz.
- Ashkenazic Passover / Pesach Customs and Traditions #6: The Four Questions in the Passover Haggadah - Ashkenazim recite The Four Questions in the following order: 1. "On all other nights we eat bread or matzah, but on this night we eat only matzah. Why?"; 2. "On all other nights, we eat all kinds of herbs, but on this night we eat only maror. Why?"; 3. "On all other nights, we do not dip even once, but on this night, we dip twice. Why?"; and 4. "On all other nights, we eat either sitting or reclining, but on this night, we eat reclining. Why?". Ashkenazim also reserve the recitation of The Four Questions for the youngest child at the Passover seder table.
- Ashkenazic Passover / Pesach Customs and Traditions #7: Passover Symbolic Foods - Some, but not all, Ashkenazim use a second bitter vegetable as a symbolic food on the Passover seder plate, called chazeret.
- Ashkenazic Passover / Pesach Customs and Traditions #8: Passover Symbolic Foods - Ashkenazim will traditionally mix apples, walnuts, honey, sweet wine, and cinnamon when creating charoset.
- Ashkenazic Passover / Pesach Customs and Traditions #9: The 10 Plagues of Passover - Ashkenazim customarily recite each of the 10 plagues of Passover and as each plague is recited, everybody at the Passover seder table will dip their pinky into the wine in their wine glass and shake a drop of wine onto a plate or into a bowl, totalling 10 drops for 10 plagues. Since wine symbolizes joy and freedom, diminishing the wine by one drop at the mention of each plague symbolizes a diminishment of joy and freedom by that amount. Based on this diminishment of joy, this ritual also symbolizes and is performed in memory of the Egyptians who suffered during the time of the 10 plagues in Egypt and the Egyptian army that drowned in the "Sea of Reeds" [which is possibly the "Red Sea", an arm of the "Red Sea", or another body of water in the Sinai Peninsula area (Gulf of Suez, or the large delta at the mouth of the Nile River in Northern Egypt)] when they were pursuing the Israelites.
- Ashkenazic Passover / Pesach Customs and Traditions #10: Passover Symbolic Foods - Ashkenazic Jewish rabbis forbid Ashkenazim to eat lamb during the Passover seder meal and for the remainder of the Passover festival ever since the destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem in 70 C.E. by the Romans. However, beef brisket, for instance, is permitted to be used and served as the main course.
- Ashkenazic Passover / Pesach Customs and Traditions #11: Passover Symbolic Foods - Participants at an Ashkenazic Passover seder each have a hard-boiled egg placed before them to be eaten.
- Ashkenazic Passover / Pesach Customs and Traditions #12: Passover Haggadah - Some Ashkenazic families have each member at the Passover seder table read sections from the Passover Haggadah, while other Ashkenazic families will have just the leader of the Passover seder read everything from the Passover Haggadah, and still other Ashkenazic families will ask for volunteers at the Passover seder table to read sections from the Passover Haggadah.
- Ashkenazic Passover / Pesach Customs and Traditions #13: Passover Seder Plate - Most Ashkenazic families will have six symbolic Passover foods on the Passover seder plate [(1) Marror (usually horseradish), (2) Beitzah (hard-boiled or roasted egg), (3) Karpas (usually celery, parsley, or lettuce), (4) Zeroah (shankbone of a lamb), (5) Charoseth (a mixture of apples, honey, cinnamon, sweet red wine, and either walnuts or almonds), and (6) Chazeret (a second marror or bitter herb, different from the marror; examples are: watercress, cucumber, romaine lettuce, endive, or radishes)], while other Ashkenazic families will have only five items on the Passover seder plate, excluding the second maror, the chazeret. Another symbolic food - the salt water - is placed in a small cup set apart from the Passover seder plate. For all Ashkenazic families, the three matzahs will be placed in their own compartments on a separate plate set apart from the Passover seder plate, where each matzah is separated from the other by a divider.
- Ashkenazic Passover / Pesach Customs and Traditions #14: The Four Questions - Many Ashkenazic Russian and Belarussian Jewish families have each child at the Passover seder table recite The Four Questions; some families may start from the oldest to the youngest child. Other families may just have the youngest child recite The Four Questions.
- Ashkenazic Passover / Pesach Customs and Traditions #14: Passover Foods - Ashkenazim traditionally serve matzah-ball soup as an entrée to the Passover seder meal. Matzah-ball soup is basically chicken soup broth with a big matzah ball in it. Knaidlach (or "kneidlach", "knaydlach", "kneydlach") means "dumplings" in Yiddish [singular form: knaidel or knaydel, from the generic German word "knödel (knoedel)", meaning "dumpling"], and refers to the matzah ball itself which is made with ground matzah, otherwise known as matzah meal. Other soups that may be served during the Passover festival include cold soups such as (1) Borscht ("Borscht" is beet or beetroot soup. The word "borscht" is from the Russian word "borshch" which means "cow parsnip".) and (2) Schav ("Schav" is sorrel soup. Schav means "sorrel" and is derived from the Yiddish word "shtshav" which in turn, is derived from the Polish word "szczaw".). Schav soup is usually a mixture of sorrel leaves, onions, lemon juice, eggs, and sugar. Schav is also served with sour cream. Appetizers for Passover may include egg plant, cole slaw, gefilte fish with chrain ("gefilte" means "stuffed" in Yiddish and "chrain" means "horseradish" in Yiddish), various cooked vegetables, and chopped liver. Matzoh meal pancakes, called "chremslach" in Yiddish, are another favorite. These matzah meal pancakes can either be regular-sized pancakes or bite-sized honey-flavored pancakes. Other favorites are variations of matzah brei or matzah brie (a type of Passover French toast in which matzah or matzah meal is soaked in milk and eggs and deep-fried), matzah kugel or potato kugel (kugel refers to "pudding" in Yiddish, but not the sweet Jello type of pudding. Kugel is either a casserole-type pudding or a pudding-like mixture of eggs, potatoes and other vegetables, usually onions. The word "kugel" - also spelled: "kugal" - is from the Yiddish word "kugl" which in turn is from the Middle High German word "kugel", which means "ball"), and tzimmes (the word tzimmes - also spelled: tsimmes, tzimmis, or tsimmis - informally-speaking, means to make "a fuss about something", however in Jewish culinary terms it is a sweet mixture of specific foods and most often means a mixture of stewed carrots, prunes, raisons, and honey. It can also be a casserole of various fruits, vegetables and/or meats. The word "tzimmes" is from the Yiddish word "tsimes" which in turn is from the Old High German compound words "ze", "zuo", meaning "to", "for" + the Middle High German word "imbiz", meaning "light meal". In turn, the word "imbiz" is taken from the Old High German word "enbizzan", meaning "to eat", where "en" or "in" + "bīzan" or "bizzan" means "to bite"). The word "tzimmes" is also a Yiddishized play on the German words "zum" ("to", "to the", "to that", or "for") and "essen" ("eat") ("zum essen" as a phrase means "for dinner"). Other appetizers include: sweet vegetable preserves known as eingemachts ("eingemachts" is derived from the Yiddish word "einmachn" or "einmachen", which means "to preserve" as in "to preserve" fruit; the vegetable most often used is grated beets, while other vegetables may include pumpkin, turnips, carrots, and black radish), ingberlach (also: "imberlach"; "ingberlach" means "ginger" in Yiddish, and refers to "ginger candies" made with carrots), blintzes (although the word "blintz" means "pancake" in Ukrainian, Jewish blintzes are essentially crï¿½pes), and Holishkes (Holishkes means "little pigeons" or "little doves" in Polish-Yiddish and refers to a dish made with cabbage leaves stuffed with meatballs and covered in a sweet and sour tomato sauce). The word "Holishkes" is a Lithuanian-Yiddish translation (one of many translated versions, for instance, "Holishikes" in Polish-Yiddish) of the Russian word "Goluptzi" or "Golubtsy", which means "little pigeons" or "little doves", because it was thought that the packets of filled, rolled cabbage leaves resembled small birds that were at rest. Main courses may be stewed chicken, pot roast, veal, turkey, or beef brisket. Matzah flour (finely ground matzah), matzah meal (coarsely ground matzah), and matzah farfel (little chunks of matzah) are used in lieu of regular flour in Passover cooking.
- Ashkenazic Passover / Pesach Customs and Traditions #15: Miriam's Cup - Some Ashkenazic families have a custom that honors the sister of Moses who played a prominent role in the Book of Exodus. They place a cup filled with water on the Passover seder table in honor of Miriam, and refer to it as Miriam's Cup. This cup also honors the contribution of Jewish women throughout Jewish history. The cup is filled with water to symbolize the miraculous well which G-d gave Miriam to help sustain the Hebrews through their journey in the Sinai desert after they fled Egypt.
- Ashkenazic Passover / Pesach Customs and Traditions #16: Matzah - In many Ashkenazic households, it is customary not to dip any matzah in any kind of liquid because any contact of matzah with liquid might create chametz - or leavening - of the matzah even though Halachic Jewish law does not mention that this possibility exists. Jewish law simply refers to properly prepared matzah as not being able to be made into chametz even if liquid is added to it. Nevertheless, some Ashkenazic families, including most Chassidic Jews, entertain the possibility that traces of yeast grain left over from baking the matzah may still exist in the matzah, and as a result they do not eat any matzah or matzah products that have come into contact with any liquid.
Footnote regarding the dates on this Ashkenazic Passover / Pesach Customs and Traditions web page: all dates discussed on this website are based on the modern Gregorian calendar, however, these dates are but one secular scholarly deduction; there are many other secular scholarly deductions as well as traditional Jewish chronological dates in addition to modern Hebrew/Jewish calendar dates regarding the timeline of events in Jewish history. To see a table of some important events in Jewish history discussed on this website and their various dates deduced from traditional Jewish sources, the modern Hebrew/Jewish calendar, and secular historical timelines, check out our Jewish History Timeline web page.