Passover (Pesach) In the Community
Passover--Pesach in Hebrew-- is usually marked as a family celebration of Jewish freedom. Although the central ritual of this festival is the home seder, there are a number of rituals that are observed within the wider community.
In the six weeks preceding Passover, there are a number of special Sabbaths, during which additional or special biblical readings are included in the service. The readings and special days relate to purification rites (Shabbat Parah), the month of Nisan in which Passover falls (Shabbat Ha-Chodesh), or a time to request instruction on the observances of the upcoming festival (Shabbat HaGadol). Finally, the day just before Passover is one of the minor fast days of the year. Called the Fast of the Firstborn, it is for firstborn males to commemorate the fact that no Jewish firstborn males were killed when the Angel of Death visited the homes of the Egyptians.
One of the ethical components of Passover is called Ma'ot Chittim, literally "money for wheat." It is a tax imposed on the congregation in the period leading up to Passover to raise money so that the poor can buy wheat to bake matzah and buy other special foods required for the festival. Even though most congregations would not formally impose such a tax, it is very common in Jewish communities throughout the world to carry on with this custom by raising money or sending out Passover food baskets for the poor.
The first and last days of Passover are full festival days, when traditional Jews do not work. Traditional Jews outside of Israel observe the first two and last two days as full-festivals, while in Israel and among liberal Jews worldwide, it is just one day at each end of the festival.
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