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Tanakh, Book of Exodus, Chapter 13, verses 3–8

According to the story, when Hebrews left Egypt, they had to escape so quickly that they did not have time for the bread to rise, so they made unleavened bread called matza (matzo). But there is another reason why the Exodus and unleavened bread are connected. Passover happens each year on a different day in March or April, according to the lunisolar calendar. In Israel, this is when people began to harvest barley. They made bread without leaven from the new barley, because the leaven would have to come from last year’s barley. Later, Israelite priests combined the two festivals into one.

Unknown
originally written around 450 BCE; translated in 1985
Book

Unknown. Exodus 13:3–8, New Jewish Publication Society of America Tanakh (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society of America, translated 1985); originally written around 450 BCE.

The Torah story explains why the Hebrews would celebrate and praise God, but what was the connection to unleavened bread? According to the story, when Hebrews left Egypt, they had to escape so quickly that they did not have time for the bread to rise, so they made unleavened bread called matza (matzo). But there is another reason why the Exodus and unleavened bread are connected. Passover happens each year on a different day in March or April, according to the lunisolar calendar. In Israel, this is when people began to harvest barley. They made bread without leaven from the new barley, because the leaven would have to come from last year’s barley. Later, Israelite priests combined the two festivals into one. In what Jewish month does Passover occur? Is the custom of eating unleavened bread connected to the environment, the history of the Hebrews, or interactions with other people?

 

Vocabulary:

Moses: the Hebrew leader

bondage: slavery

the land flowing with milk and honey: this land has many names: Canaan, Israel, Judah, Judea, Palestine. Jews believe that God gave them this land as a homeland.

leavened bread: bread baked with yeast to make it rise

unleavened bread: bread without yeast; it is flat

leaven: yeast. When we want to bake bread or a cake from scratch, we need to use yeast for the dough to rise. We can buy yeast at any grocery store. In the ancient times, people used yeast too, but it was more complicated then. From the preceding baking they used the leftover dough, which had fermented. It was called leaven and contained what we now call yeast.

 

Ancient Customs: In the earliest days, Passover (the religious holiday celebrating the Exodus from Egypt) was celebrated by families at home on a different day from the agricultural Festival of Unleavened Bread. But over time, especially after the First Temple was built in Jerusalem, Hebrew political leaders and priests combined the two holidays into one holiday when people were supposed to make a pilgrimage to the Temple in Jerusalem and bring offerings to be sacrificed.


Modern Customs: Jews gather together on the first night of Passover and have a feast as they re-tell the story of the Exodus of the Jewish slaves from Egypt. This meal is called a seder, meaning “order” in Hebrew. It refers to the specific order the feast and storytelling follow. For eight days, Jews remember the hardships suffered by their ancestors by not eating any leavened bread (including bread, pasta, and pizza). Instead of regular bread, Jews eat matza during Passover. The Passover seder is a grand celebration that includes singing, storytelling, reading the Haggadah, wine and food, and games for the children. The seder often lasts an entire night.

Having the students compare the similarities and differences between the ancient and modern customs emphasizes to them that Judaism, like all religions, has changed over time. You might also point out that historians look for continuity and change in rituals and practices. In early Israel, Passover  a holiday in commemoration of the Exodus  and the agricultural Festival of Unleavened Bread were seemingly different events. However, with the development of religious traditions, the building of the Temple, and centralization of power and religion in ancient Israel, the festivals were combined into one holiday that then called for the pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Some scholars date the Exodus to the thirteenth century BCE and the reign of King Solomon, the builder of the First Temple, to the tenth century BCE. The combination of holidays and the pilgrimage tradition thus happened before the biblical stories were written down in their present form.

3 And Moses said to the people,
"Remember this day, on which you went free from
Egypt, the house of bondage, how the Lord freed you
from it with a mighty hand: no leavened bread shall be
eaten. …
5 So, when the Lord has brought you into the …
land flowing with milk and honey, you shall observe in
this month the following practice:
6 "Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread, and on
the seventh day there shall be a festival of the Lord.
7 Throughout the seven days unleavened bread shall be
eaten; no leavened bread shall be found with you, and no
leaven shall be found in all your territory.
8 And you shall
explain to your [child] on that day,
“It is because of what the Lord did for me when I went free from Egypt.”