The Jewish Observer,

Los Angeles


          4-11 Adar, 5778                                                     Feb. 19-25, 2018 -- THE JEWISH OBSERVER, LOS ANGELES  --  603rd Web Ed.


Preparation for Passover, which begins on the evening of 14 Nissan (or March 30), is underway in these upcoming weeks leading up to the Feast of Unleavened Bread in Jewish communities around the world.  In households where Orthodox rules are followed, the separation of Passover from the rest of the year is even more notable than the separation of Shabbat from the rest of the week.  For Passover, the entire household is purified.  The dwelling is truly made kosher for Pesach.

Such a household will usually possess a totally separate supply of Passover dishware and utensils, and not one of these articles may come into contact with anything used during the rest of the year.  The Passover dishes will be brought out after the non-Passover plates are stored away for the duration of the holiday.  If the family does not possess separate dishware, pots, and utensils for Passover, an established ritual of purification involving boiling water, and burial in the ground, must be followed.

As the dominant symbol of Passover is the eating of the bread of affliction, or flat matzoth, during the entire holiday, the preparation of the matzoth in Orthodox communities extends back to watching the fields in which the grain is grown, to make sure that none of it becomes fermented through rotting.  The flat cakes of the Exodus were hastily made from dough that was not set aside to ferment and rise -- and one may indeed see the Bedouin of the Sinai today making the same flat bread, or pittah, from a dough of flour and water that is at once baked over a small fire.

In medieval times matzah was baked at home, and later, in communal ovens.  The lines of perforations, to keep the matzah from rising during the baking, were made with a wheel with pointed teeth, called a reidel.  Now matzah is a factory-made under rabbinical supervision.

A final ceremony is the search for leftover chametz, or leavened bread, that takes place in each Orthodox home on the night before the Seder.  This is done for a family procession, led by the father holding a candle.  A few crumbs, purposely left by the wife after an intensive Passover housecleaning, are carefully swept up with a father into a wooden scoop, and taken out to be burned, feather, scoop, and all.

In the modern, less observant household, the meaning of Passover is celebrated without strict obedience to rules and taboos.  “Kosher for Passover” is stamped on numerous packaged products.  However, the ceremonial items still must be assembled and prepared.

First, the ceremonial matzoth.  These are three matzoth, once the special matzoth of watched fields, now ordinary samples.  They are placed at the head of the table, and covered.  They may be under a napkin, or inside a special matzah cover, which is usually embroidered.

Then there is a Passover plate, on which the five symbolic foods are displayed.  An ordinary large plate may be used, but ceremonial platters, in silver, or porcelain, of ancient or modern design, with sections for each food, enhance the Sedar table.

The foods to be presented are as follows: Springs greens.  Celery, lettuce, or sprigs of parsley maybe used. There should be enough so that each person may be handed a small portion for “dipping” during the service. A roasted egg. This is to be held aloft for display.  A roasted shank bone of lamb.  This bone is meatless, and is also for display, symbolizing the sacrificial lamb of ancient times.  The bitter herb.  A horseradish is display on the ceremonial plate, but as portions of the bitter herb are eaten during the ceremony, it is best to provide servers within reach of everyone at the table.  Wafer-thin slices of horseradish are more practical than ground horseradish. Charoset.  This unique Passover dish is a spread made out of finely chopped apples, almonds, and raisins, seasoned with cinnamon and made into a paste with sweet wine.  Again, a small portion is displayed on the Passover plate, while more is within reach for everyone at the table.  In color and consistency, charoset resembles mortar.

In addition to these five items on the ceremonial platter, a dish of salt water is provided for the dipping of the greens.  If the group is small, the leader of the Seder may dip each portion of the greens as he hands it out, but if many people are present, it is best to have a saltwater dish within reach of each person.  A widely observed custom is to provide a hard-boiled egg in a dish of salt water at each setting.  This may be eaten as an appetizer.

Finally, there are provisions of matzoth, and the flasks of wine, enough to provide four cups for each person.  Various confections and little gifts may be hidden around the room for the children’s hunt that comes toward the end of the feast.

The Seder meal itself, in Biblical times, consisted of roasted lamb, but today dishes vary all over the world.  In the tradition of East European Jewry, the feast usually begins with gefüllte fish, followed by chicken soup with matzah balls.  Honey cake and sponge cake with tea are customary at Passover.  After the meal one should linger, cracking walnuts, eating fruit and macaroons, candies, and Passover honey dips called teiglach.

 -- An Israel Haggadah for Passover by adapted by Meyer Levin

                                                                                                     Ask the Rabbi



The 19th chapter of Sh’mot, which forms part of this week’s Torah portion, contains G[-]d’s promise to make us “am s’gulah”, usually translated as a “chosen people” (verses 5-6).

Everyone who looks at this text tries to explain it. Bernard Shaw roundly condemned it as equivalent to the Nazi Herrenvolk claim.

The range of positive opinions includes: it does not mean a chosen but a special people, it does not mean a superior but a responsible people, it does not mean a chosen but a choosing people…

The philosopher AN Whitehead said, “The Jews as a race are probably the most able of any in existence”.

Whether we fully live up to our task or not, the Bible constantly affirms that G[-]d has great expectations of us -- not as a people of political power but as a gadfly with a moral message.

The prophet Amos (3:2) tells us that the Almighty will not overlook our lapses but will punish us like anyone else who sins against Him.

Outsiders tend to do two things at once when it comes to the “chosen people” idea: they over-condemn us for some things and over-praise us for others.  They can’t have it both ways, but they do.

They tell us we are clannish: they also tell us we have a great sense of community. They don’t see the contradiction.

They also don’t realize that every people has or could have its own specialness, and instead of criticizing us they should be identifying their own uniqueness and utilizing it to serve mankind.


There are different customs about standing when the Ten Commandments are read.

Some synagogues make it a dramatic moment when everyone stands up, others have some people sitting and others standing.

Maimonides has the rule that if a person sits for the rest of the Torah reading they should remain seated for the Ten Commandments too (T’shuvot HaRambam 46).  His reasoning is that all the 613 [C]ommandments are important, not just these ten.

Those who choose to stand are re-enacting the experience of the people at Sinai, where they stood at the sound of the Divine Presence.

Rabbinic sages as far back as the time of the Talmud (B’rachot 12a) were, however, careful to ensure that people did not place too much emphasis on the Decalogue. This was for historical reasons because the minim (sectarians – in this context early Christians) said that only the Ten Commandments came from G[-]d whilst the other mitzvot were conveyed through the angels as a penalty for Israel’s disobedience.

In fact there are so many other grand commands elsewhere in the Torah that it is impossible to downgrade them, laws such as “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Lev. 19:18).

Pir’kei Avot 2:1 warns us not to differentiate between one commandment and another, nor to pick and choose which commandments we will observe.


A little boy from a village came to stay with his grandparents in the city.

Early in the morning he looked out of his window and saw traffic lights, a wonder to his country eyes.

Not knowing such things, he did not associate them with traffic control.

He ran to tell his grandfather about the lights that went from red to amber to green and then did it all over again.

“The red tells drivers to stop, the amber to get ready and the green to go,” explained grandfather.

“But I’ve been looking out of the window for half an hour,” said the little boy, “and there haven’t been any cars. Why do the lights keep changing when no-one’s taking any notice?”

“Ah!” replied grandfather, “they have to be there because we never know when they will be needed!”

That’s why we have not only Ten Commandments but 613. They have to be there for when they are needed.

Rabbi Apple served for 32 years as the chief minister of the Great Synagogue, Sydney, Australia's oldest and most prestigious congregation. He was Australia's highest profile rabbi and held many public roles. He is now retired and lives in Jerusalem.


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