Religion30 Mar 2010 07:20 pm
On March 24, 2010, only a week before the start of the Jewish holiday Passover, the Chief Rabbinate in Israel has issued a dire warning to its citizens: be on the lookout for pirate matzah. Israeli police had raided a warehouse containing a 7-ton stockpile of matzah with fake kosher certificates, and feared that this could represent a fraction of the pirated matzah on the market. The rabbinate has tried to ease the public’s anxieties by publishing color photos of the fake matzah packages and by ordering local rabbis to post the statement in synagogues and other prominent places to warn Orthodox Jews to avoid the faked product. The unleavened bread is a main feature of the eight-day Passover holiday, which is celebrated each year in the early spring, beginning on the 15th day of the Hebrew month of Nissan. It commemorates the emancipation of the Israelites from slavery in ancient Egypt (which is described in the book of Exodus).
The Cliff Notes version of this epic saga is as follows: After enduring many decades of backbreaking slavery at the hands of the Egyptians, God sent the prophet Moses to Egypt to free his chosen people. God instructed Moses to deliver the following crystal clear warning to the Pharaoh, “Send forth my people, so that they may serve Me!” Suffice it to say, the Pharaoh scoffed at Moses’ many entreaties and refused to free the Israelites. God then unleashed upon Egypt ten devastating plagues, afflicting them and destroying everything from their livestock to their crops.
Finally, at the stroke of midnight of Nissan 15 of the Hebrew year 2448 (roughly 1313 B.C.), God unleashed the last and most horrible of the ten plagues on the Egyptians; the death of all of their firstborn sons. God of course “passed over” the homes of the Israelites- hence the name of the holiday. Brought to his knees by the ravages that the ten plagues had wrought on his kingdom, Pharaoh finally relented and practically chased all of his Jewish slaves out of Egypt. In fact, they fled Egypt in such a hurry that the bread they had baked in preparation for their trek did not have time to rise before their departure for Mount Sinai and their birth as God’s chosen people.
The highlight of Passover is the two “Seders,” observed on the first two nights of the holiday. The Seder is a fifteen step tradition that is directly tied to the special food that is prepared to relive and experience the freedom that their ancestors gained that night. Thus, the Jewish Passover Seder includes the following rituals: eating matzah (a type of extremely bland unleavened cracker that must be made from kosher flour); bitter herbs (to symbolize the bitter slavery endured by the Israelites); and the drinking of four cups of wine or grape juice (to help wash down the bone-dry matzah and of course in celebration of “newfound freedom”). Dinner is accompanied by the recitation of the Haggadah, a liturgy that describes in detail the story of the Exodus from Egypt.
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