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The Last Day of Passover

April 28, 2016

Every week, Jody Hirsh, the JCC's Judaic Education Director, provides a Judaic message that is featured at the top of the JCC's weekly email newsletter. Below is the Shabbat message for Friday, April 29, 2016.

The Last Day of Passover

This Shabbat is the last day of Passover – actually for Reform Jews, Friday is the last day. Why the difference? The Jewish calendar is a complicated thing. Originally, the new month was declared by the High Priest when two witnesses testified that they had sighted the new moon, which signifies the beginning of the month. Later, when the Temple stood in Jerusalem, the witnesses came to Jerusalem to testify. After the Temple was destroyed in the year 70 by the Romans, the witnesses came to the head of the Sanhedrin (the Jewish court of 70 Rabbis) in the town of Yavneh. In any case, when the new moon was declared, word was sent to the Jews in Babylon. Since this was before the internet, it took a long time for the news to reach Babylon. Therefore in the Diaspora (i.e. any place BUT the land of Israel) people worried that they wouldn’t know when the new month started. Therefore, the Rabbis ordained that each Yom Tov (holiday) be celebrated for an extra day outside of Israel. It wasn’t until the fourth Century that they Rabbis created a mathematical system to calculate the calendar. Sighting the new moon, therefore, is no longer really necessary. That’s why the Reform movement has decided not to celebrate the extra day. More traditional Jews, however, retain this ancient custom/law. Furthermore, in Israel, the first day and the last day of Passover are both a Yom Tov – a ritual holiday. The rules are similar to the Shabbat with all the restrictions of the Sabbath. In the diaspora, these Yom Tovs are each celebrated for two days – two days at the beginning of Passover, and two days at the end of Passover. That’s why we have two seders in America, and only one seder in Israel. (At least for Orthodox and Conservative Jews, and for Reform Jews who go to friends and relatives for the second seder.) And that’s why the JCC is closed on the seventh day of Passover.

So... is there anything special or different about the last day of Passover? Well… YES! Some people relax the way they eat on the last day. Yes... tradition says that everything has be strictly Kosher for Passover, but some Jews don’t eat Matzah mixed with any moisture (think Matzah Balls or Matzah Kugel, or Matzah Biscotti)! However, on the last day they do. Some people have a special meal at the end of the last day – just before the sun sets. This meal has Passover foods, and has four cups of wine, mirroring the seder. Also, on the last day of Passover, there is a Yizkor ceremony in the synagogue. This ceremony commemorating the dead is held on the last day of some holidays and on Yom Kippur. And, of course, on Saturday night after both the Shabbat and the Chag (Holiday) is over, many of us will have Pizza.

Chag Sameach, and Shabbat Shalom.