Photograph: Rudy Weissenstein, The Photohouse Archive


The festival of Passover, when the Jewish people commemorate their Exodus from slavery in Egypt, appears in the Bible, and is considered the first of the three pilgrimage festivals, during which Jews would travel to the Temple in Jerusalem in ancient times. The story of the Exodus from Egypt, which is the focus of the holiday  and which is described in the Passover Haggadah, places freedom as a central value of Judaism.

The Jewish festival of Passover begins on the 15th of Nisan and concludes on the 21st of Nisan. The first day is considered a Yom Tov ("Good Day"), on which work is forbidden, as on the Sabbath. The 7th day of Passover is also considered a Yom Tov. The days in between the first and last days of the Passover festival are called Hol Hamoed in Hebrew.

The primary commandment of the holiday is to refrain from eating, enjoying or even owning chametz - leavened bread, or more specifically, any foods containing leavening agents. On the eve of Passover the Passover Seder meal is held, the Haggadah is read, the story of the Exodus is told, and matzah is eaten.

Additional Names for the Passover Festival

Passover is also known as the Festival of Unleavened Bread, the Festival of Freedom and the Festival of Spring. The Hebrew name Pesach comes from the word pasaḥ (lit. to pass over) which is mentioned in Exodus 12, 27: “Tell them, ‘It is the pesaḥ [Passover] sacrifice to the Lord, who passed over the houses of the Israelites in Egypt and spared our homes when he struck down the Egyptians.’” According to another interpretation the meaning of the word Passover is salvation.

While in the Bible the word “pesaḥ” means the sacrifice on the eve of the feast, the biblical name is the Feast of Unleavened Bread, as written in Exodus 23, 15: “Celebrate the Festival of Unleavened Bread; For seven days eat bread made without yeast, as I commanded you. Do this at the appointed time in the month of Aviv, for in that month you came out of Egypt.” That is, the holiday is named for the unleavened bread (matzah) that is commanded to be eaten on the holiday. Based on the same verse, the name Spring Festival was given in a later period to mark the season in which the holiday falls, in accordance with the commandments.

The prayers mention the holiday as “the time of our freedom,” meaning the time of our exodus to freedom, hence another of the holiday's names—The Festival of Freedom.

Passover Treasures at the National Library

The National Library preserves 8,500 Haggadot, in a collection which is considered the largest of its kind in the world. The collection includes thousands of antique Haggadot, many of them rare editions, from different periods and countries of origin. There are also a large number of Haggadot published shortly before the establishment of the State of Israel. The design and content of these Haggadot express the spirit of the struggle for the establishment of the State, as well as various currents in Jewish society in Mandatory Palestine and the Diaspora. They reflect the various cultural forces which combined to form modern Israeli culture.

In addition, you can find stories about the holiday, lesson plans and various holiday publications from the Diaspora and the Land of Israel.

The Warsaw Haggadah

Teacher Shlomit Rauner on a special Haggadah published shortly before the outbreak of WWII in Poland


The Story of the Exodus in Maps

Teacher Na'ama Sadan on antique maps that descibe the story of the Exodus from Egypt and the wanderings of the Children of Israel in the desert (make sure to activate the English subtitles using the "Settings" button in the bottom right-hand corner of the window below)