Passover begins March 30th with four questions, and ends with a fifth…
Why is April 6th different from all other Passover nights? Answer: Because for some Jews April 6th is the eighth night of the holiday, and for other Jews Passover is over and pizza is on the menu!
For all Jews who live in Israel, Passover is a seven-day holiday per the mandate in the Torah.
“No leaven shall be found in your houses for seven days…” [Exodus 12:19] “You shall observe the Feast of Unleavened Bread – eating unleavened bread for seven days as I have commanded you…” [Exodus 23:15] And for Reform and other Progressive Jews living outside Israel (in the diaspora), the seven-day mandate holds as well.
For more traditional Jews living outside of Israel, however, Passover is observed for eight days. Why eight days? Do they think it’s Chanukah? (Matzo lasts eight days because its dry and bland, not because it’s a miracle!)
The answer goes back to the period of the second Temple (approximately 352 BCE – 68 CE), when most Jews lived in Babylonia (modern Iraq). Each lunar month had either 29 or 30 days, and the monthly calendar was set based on the sighting of each month’s new crescent moon. Official word as to which day had been declared the beginning of the month had to be communicated far and wide, and it took a long time for information to travel by messenger all the way to Babylonia! Since Jews who lived far away didn’t always get the message in time for a particular holiday, they covered their bases by observing holidays for all of the days on which they might fall. A clever solution.
Thus, one-day holidays were made two-day holidays, and seven-day holidays were made eight-day holidays. This is also the reason why some families celebrate a second night seder, and some only celebrate one. In my family, we always said we only needed one seder because we got it right the first time. 😉
So what’s the moral of the story? The moral of the story is that there are multiple ways to celebrate Passover, and there are many ways to be Jewish.
If you choose to observe an eighth day of Passover despite living in this current era of accurate calendars and instant communication, you go for it! And make or attend one seder or two, as you wish.
If you’ve never kept kosher for Passover because seven or eight days has always felt like too much to even attempt, try three days! If that’s too much, try one. Or instead, donate your time and/or financial resources to organizations that fight against modern slavery. (Or in addition to…)
Whatever is the right way for you to be Jewish, be Jewish!
Remember that we were once slaves in Egypt, tell our story to the newest generation, and be mindful of how fortunate we are to be Jewish in this place and time.
Wishing you all a zissen pesach (sweet Passover) …