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Sefardi-Jewish Topics

Sephardic Passover / Pesach customs

Sephardic Passover / Pesach customs and traditions reflect a rich and exotic Jewish culture that flourished for many centuries on the Iberian Peninsula in Spain and Portugal. From the exotic and delicious cuisine, to the music, to the colorful customs practised at the Passover / Pesach Seder table, observing the Passover / Pesach customs and traditions of the Sephardim is always a fabulous experience.

Before reading about Sephardi Passover customs and traditions, one must understand the origin and meaning of the Hebrew words “Sephardic”, “Sephardi”, and “Sephardim” (alternate spellings: “Sefardic”, “Sefardi”, and “Sefardim”). All the aforementioned Hebrew words are derived from the Hebrew word “Sepharad” which was originally mentioned as a place name in the Tanakh or Hebrew Bible, in Obadiah 1:20. The place name “Sepharad” was identified as a district located near the Bosphorus in Asia Minor (now in Turkey). Later on, in the Middle Ages, the place name “Sepharad” was identified by Jewish biblical commentators (Rashi, Ibn Ezra) as Ispamia (either Spain or the Iberian Peninsula, meaning both Spain and Portugal), and “Sephardim” came to denote both the “Inhabitants of Spain”, specifically, the Jewish inhabitants of Spain, and/or the “Inhabitants of the Iberian Peninsula”, specifically meaning the Jewish inhabitants of both Spain and Portugal. Similarly, a “Sephardi” was either a Spanish-Jewish person or a Portuguese-Jewish person, and the word “Sephardic” described Jews who adopted the rich cultural and religious traditions of the Spanish-Jews and Portuguese-Jews. Since Jews in Spain and Portugal from the Early Middle Ages until the latter part of the 15th century C.E. lived more or less in relative peace with their fellow citizens, a rich and strong cultural and religious tradition developed within both the Spanish and Portuguese Jewish communities, particularly in the Spanish-Jewish communities, including prayer rites (“nusach”, “nusah” or “nusakh” in Hebrew), legal concepts, mores, religious traditions, etc. With the peak of the Spanish Inquisition and Portuguese Inquisition in 1492 and 1497 respectively resulting in the expulsion of all non-Catholics from Spain and Portugal, the Jews from “Sepharad” migrated to other countries in Europe, North Africa, the Middle East, and Asia, bringing with them the strong cultural and religious influence of the “Sephardim” or “Sephardi Jews” or “Sephardic Jews” of Spain and Portugal. They settled among the already established Jewish communities of North Africa, the Middle East, and Asia and their cultural and religious influence eventually absorbed many (but not all) of those established Jewish communities, so much so that the definition for the words “Sephardic”, “Sephardi”, and “Sephardim” was eventually extended to refer to Jewish communities who lived not only in Spain and Portugal (some Spanish and Portuguese Jews eventually returned to the Iberian Peninsula after the Inquisitions), but also to Jewish communities who adopted the cultural and religious influences of the original Sephardic Jews or Sephardi Jews of Spain and Portugal.

Sephardic Passover customs and traditions can vary from region to region, country to country, city to city, community to community, and family to family. Many Sephardic customs and traditions involved assimilating Passover rituals with the culinary, musical, and linguistic traditions of the surrounding peoples in the areas where Sephardim lived. The following is a selected list of Sephardic Passover customs and traditions:

Sephardic Passover Customs and Traditions #1: Passover Food – Sephardic Passover dietary law rulings permit the use of kitniyot [generally speaking, kitniyot (singular form: “kitnit” or “kitneet”) include small fleshless seeds of annual plants that an individual might ground into flour], and their derivatives in other products. Examples are: ascorbic acid, calcium ascorbate, caraway seeds, castor sugar, chick peas, citric acid, corn, custard powder, dextrose, dried beans, dried peas, glucose, green beans, icing sugar, lecithin, lentils, mustard, rice, sesame seeds, soya beans, soya products, starch, sunflower seeds, tofu, and their derivatives in food and beverage products in cooking during the Passover festival. In practice, most – but not all – Sephardic communities eat products containing these grains and legumes and their derivatives during Passover. However, like Ashkenazim, Sephardim forbid the use of chametz grains, which include: barley, oats, rye, spelt, and wheat, during the Passover festival, except when making matzah, in which case any of the 5 chametz grains MUST be used so that it simulates the situation that the Hebrews experienced when they tried to bake their bread as they prepared to flee Egypt. Furthermore, Sephardim, like Ashkenazim, are forbidden to come in contact with or even have in their possession in their household any chametz. Chametz includes leavened foods, drinks and ingredients that are made from or contain wheat, rye, barley, oats or spelt. Therefore, all grain products such as breads, cereals and other breakfast foods, grain alcohol, grain vinegar and malts, are forbidden during Passover. Some Sephardic communities will eat rice and kitniyot during Passover but must check them three times prior to the Passover festival to make absolutely certain there are no kernels of chametz in the rice or kitniyot, in accordance with the Passover dietary laws for chametz. In addition, out of the concern for an accidental mixture of kitniyot flour with chametz flour, Sephardim will only use fresh legumes and not dried legumes, unless the dried legumes were dried for the specific purpose of being used for the Passover festival. Despite these restrictions, Sephardim and Ashkenazim agree that having possession of kitniyot (Sephardic pronounciation) / kitniyos (Ashkenazic pronounciation) – but not consumption of kitniyot/kitniyos for most Ashkenazim and some Sephardim – is permitted during the Passover festival.

Sephardic Passover Customs and Traditions #2: Passover Food – A typical Sephardic Seder might have an introductory dish called “Huevos Haminados” (“Huevos Haminados” is a Ladino – meaning Hebrew-Spanish – phrase. It essentially means “brown eggs”. The term “huevos” means “eggs” in Spanish and “haminados” is derived from the Hebrew word “hamin”, which means “hot” but in this context, it means “a low-temperature oven in which food could be kept warm all night”, and refers to the fact that the eggs must be cooked at a low temperature for a 24 hour period. The -ados suffix is the Spanish ending of the word. Greek Jews call these type of eggs either “Selanlik yamurta”, meaning “Salonika eggs” which refers to the city of Salonika, Greece or “Yahudi yamurta” meaning “Jewish eggs”. Italian Jews refer to these eggs as “Turkish eggs”.). Primarily served on Sabbath lunches and for life-cycle events, Huevos Haminados has also been served on different Jewish holidays such as Passover. Originally, Huevos Haminados were cooked on top of meats and legumes in hamins, meaning Sabbath stews that were braised at a low temperature for a 24 hour period. Today, Huevos Haminados is also cooked Pareve, (meaning without having contact with meats and dairy products) and placed in onion skins which are then gently simmered overnight either in the oven or on top of the stove. Either tea leaves or spent coffee grinds are added to the roasting materials for added flavor. Huevos Haminados or browned eggs cradled in onion skins tastes somewhat like hard-boiled eggs, however, the fact that they have been simmered for a long period of time gives them a softer and tender texture without being rubbery, as well as having a rich, oniony fragrance.

Huevos Haminados might be followed by leek soup, then a fish appetizer. For the main course at the Passover Seder meal, Sephardim typically serve lamb or fish sprinkled with various fruits and/or vegetables or even white truffles. The meat may be accompanied by mimulim (“mimulim” are “meat-stuffed vegetables”), green beans, okra, kibbe ib gheraz (“kibbe ib gheraz” are “Syrian meatballs with cherries”), and apio (“apio” is “sweet-and-sour celeriac or celery”), which is often “con safanoria”, meaning “with carrots”. Greek Jews may serve Greek lamb stew, usually with romaine lettuce and dill. Various rice or bean salads and soups are also served, as well as various mixed vegetable dishes with different sauces and spices like coriander, cumin, cardamom, tarragon, turmeric, ginger, mint, fennel, basil, saffron, and chili powder. Artichokes, salmon, vegetable frittatas, Mrouziya (“Mrouziya” are either “currant preserves” or “currant and walnut preserves”), and baked okra are also favorites. For the remainder of the Passover festival week, Sephardim might serve stuffed lamb intestines. Artichokes and leek soup are another favorite. Mint tea is usually served as a drink.

Sephardic Passover Customs and Traditions #3: Passover Food – Sephardim usually do not cook with matzah meal. Instead, they use matzah with eggs and in meat dishes. Olive oil is usually used in Passover cooking.

Sephardic Passover Customs and Traditions #4: Passover Food – Moroccan Sephardim traditionally eat white truffles, French-style doughnuts called “beignets” that are made with matzah meal, and cakes of honey, almonds, and cinnamon during Passover. Another favorite Sephardic Passover food are fritters called “bimuelos” in Ladino.

Sephardic Passover Customs and Traditions #5: Passover Food – For Passover dessert, Sephardim may eat either a sponge cake called Bisquitte pan d’Espagne (alternate spelling: “pan de Espagne”), nut cake (“torta de muez”), nut crescents (“mustachudos”), or a syrup-drenched cake called “tishpishti”.

Sephardic Passover Customs and Traditions #6: The Four Questions in the Passover Haggadah – Sephardim recite The Four Questions in the following order: 1. “On all other nights, we do not dip even once, but on this night, we dip twice. Why?”; 2. “On all other nights we eat bread or matzah, but on this night we eat only matzah. Why?”; 3. “On all other nights, we eat all kinds of herbs, but on this night we eat only maror. Why?”; and 4. “On all other nights, we eat either sitting or reclining, but on this night, we eat reclining. Why?”. Sephardic custom is to have all participants at the Passover Seder table chanting “The Four Questions” in unison.

Sephardic Passover Customs and Traditions #7: Passover Symbolic Foods – Most Sephardim use celery leaves, parsley, or a boiled potato for the karpas, and romaine lettuce or another herb for the maror. The celery leaves are dipped in either salt water, vinegar, lemon juice, or lime juice, depending on the custom of one’s community. The karpas vegetable should not be the same type of vegetable as the maror. All Sephardim use a second bitter vegetable, called chazeret, as part of the symbolic foods of Passover. Instead of the Ashkenazic preference for horseradish that would represent one of the bitter herbs, Sephardim use either escarole or endive.

Sephardic Passover Customs and Traditions #8: Passover Symbolic Foods – The basic charoset recipe of honey, wine, nuts, fruit, and spices is common to all Sephardim. However, Sephardic families will use a variety of ingredients that reflect the cuisines of their country or community, or what is available in their community to make charoset. Either one or a combination of crushed, chopped or boiled dates, figs, chestnut paste, raisins, pomegranates, apricots, or oranges might be used as the fruit ingredient, chopped pistachio nuts or chopped walnuts might be used as the nut ingredient, and a variety of spices might be used in place of using cinnamon as the traditional spice to make charoset. Other charoset combinations include the use of date honey, known as Haleq, or mixing figs, apples, nuts, cinnamon, and wine. Charoset is the Passover food that has the greatest variety of recipes of any Passover food.

Sephardic Passover Customs and Traditions #9: Passover Haggadah – For Sephardim, the Passover Haggadah is recited using both the local language and Hebrew, or in the Sephardic dialect known as Ladino, which is primarily a mixture of Hebrew and/or Judeo-Arabic and 14th and 15th century Spanish, or by using a combination of Ladino and the local language and/or Hebrew, depending on the community.

Sephardic Passover Customs and Traditions #10: Re-enacting the Exodus from Egypt – Following either the Passover Seder step of Yachatz (breaking of the middle matzah) or of reciting Ha-Lachmah Anya (“We were slaves in Egypt…”) in the Passover Seder step of Maggid or in the middle of reciting Ha-Lachmah Anya, most Sephardim (except for Spanish-Portuguese Sephardim) re-enact the exodus from Egypt. The afikoman is tied in a large napkin, given to one of the children at the Passover Seder table, and then the child slings the napkin over his or her shoulders. The leader of the Passover Seder then asks a series of three questions to the child: 1. “From where have you come?” The child answers: “I have come from Egypt”. 2. The Passover Seder leader then asks: “Where are you going?” The child answers: “I am going to Jerusalem”. Finally, the Passover Seder leader asks: “What are you taking with you?” The child then points to the sack or napkin full of matzah. A variation of this is performed among Sephardic Egyptian Jews, where not just a child is given the chance to re-enact the Passover story and be asked the questions, but each person at the Passover Seder table will takes turns re-enacting the exodus from Egypt. Also, the person at a Sephardic Egyptian Passover Seder will first sling the napkin of matzah over their right shoulder and then be asked by the leader of the Passover Seder: “Where are you from?” The person answers: “Egypt”. The leader then asks: “Where are you going?”. The person then slings the napkin of matzah over their left shoulder and says: “Jerusalem!”. Another variation of the exodus play comes from Iraq and Kurdistan. Sephardic Iraqi and Kurdistani Jews will begin the Passover Seder by re-enacting the exodus from Egypt in a dramatic fashion. A child will go outside the house and then knock on the door to the house. The Passover Seder leader will then ask the child the series of questions as mentioned before: “Where are you from?”, “Where are you going?”, and “What are you taking with you?”. After answering the questions, the child will then recite The Four Questions to open the Passover Seder. There are other slightly different variations of this re-enactment in other Sephardic communities. North-African Sephardim will have the Seder leader leave the room and return with a walking stick and the afikomen in a cloth on his shoulder. The children would then ask the Seder leader: “Where are you coming from?”, and the Seder leader will then proceed to tell the story of his exodus from Egypt. Yemenite Jews will conduct the re-enactment of the Exodus from Egypt by having the Seder leader throw a bag with the afikomen matzah in it over his shoulder like a knapsack. He then circles the table while leaning on a cane. As the Seder leader walks around the room, he tells everyone at the Passover Seder table about his experiences and the miracles he witnessed as he came forth from Egypt. Finally, in the Eastern Judeo-Spanish ritual (Turkish and Greek Sephardim of Judeo-Spanish descent), the Seder leader will leave the room and return with a walking stick and the afikomen in a sack or cloth over his shoulder, along with a tightened belt. The children then ask: “Where are you coming from?”, the Seder leader replies: “From Egypt.”, and then the children ask: “Where are you going?”, and the Seder leader replies: “To Jerusalem!”

Sephardic Passover Customs and Traditions #11: Participants at a Sephardic Persian (or Iranian) Passover Seder will simultaneously chant the Passover song “Dayenu” and hold bunches of either celery, chives, leeks or scallions in their hands and lightly beat each other on the back and shoulders to symbolize the sting generated by the whip of the Egyptian taskmasters. A variation of this custom with Sephardic Persian Jewish families will have participants at the Passover Seder table take turns being an Egyptian taskmaster, lightly beating another person with the celery, chives, scallions, or leeks. Once one person is done, they then pass the chives, scallions, or leeks on to the next person at the table who will then repeat the custom, and so on until all at the table have had their turns. While Sephardim are performing this ritual, all at the Passover Seder wish each other “Sentak Khadhra”, which is a blessing for a green, fruitful year for everyone. Iraqi Jews will say to each other “Sant-il-Khadra”, meaning “a year of good fortune”.

Sephardic Passover Customs and Traditions #12: Passover Seder Plate – Moroccan Sephardic Jews will hold the Passover Seder plate aloft and pass it over the heads of all those at the Passover Seder table while announcing to each participant that they have left Egypt and are now free.

Sephardic Passover Customs and Traditions #13: Tunisian Sephardic Jews follow a similar custom as the Moroccan Sephardic Jews as mentioned in Sephardic Passover Customs and Traditions #13, but instead of passing the tray over the heads of each person, they touch the heads of each person with the tray which serves as a reminder to each person that they once carried burdens upon their heads as slaves in Egypt.

Sephardic Passover Customs and Traditions #14: Passover Seder Plate – Many Sephardic Moroccan Jewish families have a bit of a ceremony when bringing in the Passover Seder plate to the Passover Seder table. They may cover the plate will either a fine piece of embroidery or the finest piece of embroidery in the household, while everyone at the Passover Seder table sings a devotional song about Israel. While everyone is singing, the person who brought the Passover Seder plate to the table then places the plate on the head of a child and turns it around on the child’s head for all to see it.

Sephardic Passover Customs and Traditions #15: The 10 Plagues of Passover – When reciting the 10 plagues, the leader at a Sephardic Passover Seder will spill a bit of wine from a special cup of wine into a bowl at the mention of each plague, for a total of 10 spills of wine. The leader usually will then wash his or her hands to symbolically cleanse themself of the 10 plagues. Some Sephardic families in countries such as Turkey and other Balkan countries will not even look at the wine that is spilled out of the cup when reciting each of the 10 plagues, while other Sephardic families in other countries will only permit the leader of the Passover Seder to recite the 10 plagues lest they be “poisoned” or “contaminated” from the recitation. Many Sephardic Greek Jewish families will pour vinegar into a basin beside them as the 10 plagues are recited, followed by the singing of “Dayenu”.

Sephardic Passover Customs and Traditions #16: Sephardim, unlike Ashkenazim, usually do not hide the afikoman matzah or have a Cup of Elijah. However, Sephardim want to protect themselves from the “Evil Eye”, and in so doing they take the symbols of Passover food and use them as good omens for the entire year. For instance, Sephardim in different communities might save a piece of afikoman matzah to be used as an ornament or even carried on one’s person for protection against the “Evil Eye”, or dip their hand in charoset to make an imprint of a hamsa hand on a sheet of paper to be hung on their door which serves as protection against the “Evil Eye”.

Sephardic Passover Customs and Traditions #17: Sephardic Passover Foods – Foods served at a Sephardic Passover meal might include lamb served as the main course, vegetable or meat matzah pies, called “Mina”, haminados eggs boiled with red onion skins, saffron and vinegar, fava bean soup as an entr e, leek croquettes, and for dessert, almond torte and/or nut cake.

Sephardic Passover Customs and Traditions #18: Passover Symbolic Foods – Sephardim use a single hard-boiled egg, cut it up, and then distribute a piece of it to each participant at the Passover Seder table to be eaten.

Sephardic Passover Customs and Traditions #19: Post-Passover Celebration – Mimouna (alternate spellings: Maimuna, Mimuna, Mimunah, Maimunah, Mimounah, Maimouna, Maimounah) : At the close of the Passover festival at sundown on the 8th day (7th day for Reform Jews and Jews in Israel), Moroccan and Turkish Sephardic Jews worldwide have a celebration called Mimouna which is celebrated in their homes. Mimouna is a celebration of freedom, community values, togetherness, friendship, and is a demonstration of great hospitality. It is also a celebration of the renewal of Spring, and fertility. On the eve of Mimouna, family members, friends, and cousins visit each others’ homes, going from house to house. There is a certain order to these visits. On their way home from synagogue services, Mimouna celebrants will visit the Rabbi’s family, the Hazzan (Cantor), their parents, friends, and then their neighbors, in that order. Traditional embroidered dress is worn by members of the household. A big banquet, buffet, and feast are hosted by each household. Some believe that Mimouna represents a symbolic new beginning of freedom from slavery, and so sweets are set out on a table with a white tablecloth decorated with flowers and wheat sheaves which is the centerpiece of the Mimouna Day. In the sense of Mimouna being a new beginning, eating these sweets symbolizes a sweet year.

Originally, the central event of Mimouna used to be the baking of the first leavened bread after Passover. The yeast of the bread was considered a symbol of Israel, and so great care was taken to ensure it rose properly. While the dough was being prepared, songs were sung in hopes that the rising bread would be a good omen. Some communities kept and poured wine from the cup of Elijah over the yeast. As mentioned, the festive table is the central point of the Mimouna celebration and contains and is decorated with many symbolic foods and items, respectively. Symbolic foods of Mimouna include milk or buttermilk, white candies, and flour that symbolize purity; eggs, bean pods that symbolize fertility; and dates and preserves that symbolize a sweet year. Other symbolic foods include: butter, honey, fruits, candies, cakes made with yeast, plain yeast, coin-shaped chocolate, and nuts. Fresh raw fish and various other greens are also present. All the above-mentioned symbolic foods also symbolize good luck. Wine is also present on the table, which is decorated with flowers and stalks of wheat. Sweet Moroccan mint tea is also served. The table of sweets may contain gold-wrapped chocolate coins to symbolize one of the meanings of Mimouna: prosperity and riches. Mimouna is also the time when a popular Pareve confection called “Zabane” is made (“Pareve” means “neutral” in Hebrew and refers to a food that has no dairy or meat products in it.). Zabane is made with sugar and whipped egg-whites, and beaten until a thick consistency is achieved. The goal is to reach a consistency that resembles caramel. There may be peanuts or chopped walnuts added in to the mixture for variety. Once prepared, zabane is poured into a bowl and eaten with a spoon. Chocolate-covered apricots are another popular candy. A famous dish called “Muffaleta” or “Mufleita” – a thin, round, fragrant pancake-like food that is rolled up similar to a type of French cr pe – is served hot and contains butter and honey. Stuffed dates are also popular. Pita bread would be dipped in honey and butter to symbolize the togetherness of the family. Mimouna is celebrated with great vigor in Israel, where families gather at picnics in parks and on beaches to eat, drink, sing and dance. There is also a custom that courting and matchmaking are performed on Mimouna, and so after eating, many women and men meet and mingle in the streets in order to meet an ideal mate on Mimouna, but are also under the watchful eye of their parents. There is also another custom that parents of an engaged couple invite them over to eat muffaleta and grilled fish. Jews who lived in coastal areas of Morocco would customarily go to the seashore early in the morning on the first day after Passover and dip their bare feet into the water and wash their hands to symbolize the Hebrews’ journey through the Yam Soof, which is the Hebrew phrase for the “Sea of Reeds” [which is possibly the “Red Sea”, an arm of the “Red Sea”, or another body of water in the Sinai Peninsula area (Gulf of Suez, or the large delta at the mouth of the Nile River in Northern Egypt)], which took place on the final day of the first Passover. People who lived inland would go to rivers, wells, springs, or swimming holes to re-enact the miraculous journey through the “Sea of Reeds”. These people would pour water over their hands and feet and even on the threshold of their houses to symbolize the Hebrews’ journey through the “Sea of Reeds”. Once this ritual was done, people would then go to an outdoor setting where they would set up tents and picnics complete with music, laughter, singing and dancing.

In Turkey, during Mimouna festivities, Turkish-Jewish men throw coins and candy (both of these items are symbols of the wealth and food that the Jewish people brought with them when they left Egypt), and grass [a symbol of the “Sea of Reeds”, which is possibly the “Red Sea”, an arm of the “Red Sea”, or another body of water in the Sinai Peninsula area (Gulf of Suez, or the large delta at the mouth of the Nile River in Northern Egypt)] to children who eagerly await them.

The origin and meaning of Mimouna is not definite. Mimouna (alternate spellings: Maimuna, or Mimuna) means either “wealth”, or “good fortune” in Arabic, or the word Mimouna may mean “Maimon” in reference to the father of Maimonides. Maimonides was born Moses Ben Maimon (Hebrew meaning: “Moses, son of Maimon” or Maymun) in C rdoba, Spain, who lived from 1135 to 1204. He was a famous Jewish rabbinical scholar, philosopher, and physician who first lived in Spain then in Cairo, Egypt. Mimouna was said to have originated in Fez, Morocco, in honor of Maimonides’ father who lived and died there. Mimouna honors the death date of Maimonides’ father. Since Maimonides’ father died on the final day of Passover and in Jewish tradition death is seen as a reunion of man with his Creator, a celebration is held on the anniversary of the death. To avoid having both the Passover celebration and the anniversary celebration of the death of Maimonides’ father on the same day, the anniversary celebration of Maimonides’ father’s death was moved up to the day after the final day of Passover. Mimouna might also mean “emunah”, which means “faith” in Hebrew, faith in the sense that redemption for the Jewish people will come in the month of Nisan, as it came to pass in the month of Nisan during the exodus from Egypt. Another possibility is that Mimouna derives from the word “mammon” in Aramaic or Hebrew, which means “prosperity” or “riches”. This definition originates from the belief that both one’s personal productivity, prosperity and wealth as well as the national productivity, prosperity and wealth of one’s country will be determined on Mimouna Day. At the evening synagogue service, people greet each other, wishing each other “tarbah” (Tarbah means “success” in Hebrew), as well as reciting to each other the special Mimouna blessing: “Alallah Mimouna, Ambarka mas’uda”, and drink “Mahya”, a honey-based drink. After the evening service, there are customary visits to the Rabbi’s house, the Hazzan or Cantor’s house, followed by the house of one’s parents, friends, and neighbors. Laughter and jokes with much music and rejoicing characterize the Mimouna evening well into the night!

Sephardic Passover Customs and Traditions #20: Post-Passover Celebration – Sephardic Turkish Jews have a celebratory custom after the close of the Passover festival. The father or grandfather of the household throws coins, candy, and grass for the children to collect. Grass symbolizes the reeds of the “Sea of Reeds” [which is possibly the “Red Sea”, an arm of the “Red Sea”, or another body of water in the Sinai Peninsula area (Gulf of Suez, or the large delta at the mouth of the Nile River in Northern Egypt)], and the coins and candy symbolize the wealth that the Israelites or Hebrews brought out of Egypt. At the same time, this ritual represents a wish that the coming year should be “green” and productive.

Sephardic Passover Customs and Traditions #21: Post-Passover Celebration – Persian (or Iranian) Jews have a post-Passover celebration called “Shabeh Sal”. This is similar to the Moroccan Mimouna in terms of having a festival complete with sweets except that it takes place in the home of the eldest member of the family. Visitors to the eldest member’s home bring sweets to add to the festivity. To symbolize the conclusion of Passover, family members in the eldest member’s household prepare foods made with dairy products because kosher for Passover milk and milk products are not available in Iran. Following this event, Iranian Jews have a tea drinking ceremony in which tea is served with dates rather than sugar because kosher for Passover sugar is also not available in Iran. The following day, Persian Jews go out to picnic in a grassy area, shaded from the sun. Persian Jews adopted this picnicking custom called “Roozeh Sal” that pre-dates Islam in Persia.

Sephardic Passover Customs and Traditions #22: Pre-Passover Custom: Bediqath Hametz (the search for leaven) – In the evening on the day before Passover, the head of the household searches for leavening carrying a lit candle with only one wick. He also holds a knife which he uses to check all nooks and crevices in the household for any traces of hametz (leaven). He also carries a bowl containing a piece of bread in it, and usually adds a little salt in the bowl. The reason for the salt derives from superstition. Salt is known to deter Satan, and since it is thought Satan is jealous of this custom, salt is then used to ward him off.

Sephardic Passover Customs and Traditions #23: Candle-lighting – Sephardic Jews usually light seven candles on the eve of each Passover Seder, and this is traditionally done by the lady of the household. The reason for seven candles is rooted in Kabbalistic opinions. According to the Kabbalah, the Passover Seder night radiates an extremely powerful light – in a spiritual sense.

Sephardic Passover Customs and Traditions #24: Passover Symbolic Foods – Jews of Syrian, Indian, and Iraqi heritage may substitute lemon juice for salt water. They may also use celery instead of parsley for the karpas vegetable, and use a thick date syrup called “Halek” (or Haleq) as part of the charoset mixture.

Sephardic Passover Customs and Traditions #25: Passover Cooking – Unlike Ashkenazim, Sephardim rarely cook with matzah meal. Sephardim prefer to moisten whole or coarsely crumbled matza in water and mix it with eggs or meat in casseroles.


About Orekh Schriftsteller

Orekh Schriftsteller. It is the online pen-name of author and Managing Director of DM Enterprises.


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