Chag Hamatzot

As I described in a separate post on the Biblical calendar, the Hebrew new year begins upon sighting the first new moon after the aviv has been observed. On the fourteenth day of the first month (Hebrew days begin at sunset) the Pesach (Passover) offering is made. A lamb without blemish whose meat must be consumed that night. Any leftovers must be burned at sunrise.

As long as the Tabernacle (משכן [Mishkan] in Hebrew) or the Temple (house of YHVH
בית המקדש [Beit Hamikdash]) were available to us this sacrifice was conducted not only within these holy precincts but also throughout the world wherever Israelites could be found. After the destruction of the Temple many Jews abandoned animal sacrifice and offering prayers in their stead.

While this holiday is more commonly known as Passover (פסח [Pesach] in Hebrew), that term refers only to the first night in which the offering is made. The holiday is more accurately named the Chag Hamatzot (חג המצות [Chag Hamatzot] in Hebrew), as unleavened bread must be eaten throughout the seven days. Ch is used here to indicate the deep “khe” sound present in Hebrew, Arabic, and similar semitic languages, click here to hear it pronounced. “Chag” means pilgrimage festival during which one travels to Jerusalem, if they can, to observe the given holiday. The Arabic Hajj (حج) is a cognate, and Muslims today have a similar practice of traveling to Mecca once a year. There are three chag festivals during the Jewish year, and this is the first of them. “Matzot” means unleavened bread. This holiday is the pilgrimage festival of the unleavened bread.

In fact Chag Hamatzot actually celebrates three events at once: first of all the night that YHVH killed every first borne in Egypt (possibly with carbon dioxide gas) commemorated by the Pesach offering; second, the journey from Egypt in which the Israelites left so quickly that they had not time to leaven, pickle, or ferment any food, celebrated by the absense of these items from our diets and households; and third, the crossing of the Sea of Reeds (ים סוף [Yam Suf] in Hebrew) commemorated by the retelling of this incredible journey every year (for the past 3500 years, in fact). Generally speaking it is an all-encompassing holiday that celebrates the Exodus from Egypt and the birth of YHVH’s holy nation of Israel (אמו ישראל [Amo Yisrael] in Hebrew).

The holiday lasts seven days, during which you may not consume nor may you have in your house anything that is leavened, pickled, or fermented. Nor may you have any leavening, pickling, or fermenting agents in your house. This includes (but is by no means limited to) bread, cheese, vinegar, any form of alcohol, baking soda, etc.

The holiday is celebrated by holding a seder (ordered dinner – סדר in Hebrew), during which bitter herbs and unleavened bread (מצה [Matza] in Hebrew) are consumed. Matza must be eaten during these seven days. In Karaite tradition wheat is permissible, and generally each family makes their own matza. Karaites also make their own Passover “wine” by smashing frozen grapes into a liquid. The holiday is first laid out in Shemot (Exodus) 12.
In Talmudic practice, wine and other fermented items are permitted in one’s house, while wheat products are not; the seder has been changed into one that has little to do with the actual Exodus story; and many other strange practices have been adopted, including opening the door for the prophet Eliyahu (Elijah) who died thousands of years ago, but whom the Talmudists claim to be immortal and walking the Earth today.

In every other respect non-Israelites are allowed to practice Judaism without restriction. In this case, however, the Pesach offering (Passover) may not be consumed by any uncircumcised person (Shemot 49). If a non-Jew should happen to attend a seder dinner, he should not eat any lamb just to be certain that they do not violate the commandment.
Click to purchase and download your Pesach Haggadha (Prayer Book).

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