” What is this ? That’s the question a friend asked me one day, pointing to the crisp white pancake I was eating: “That’s a matzah.” Or matzos, in the plural, in Hebrew. In the same way that we say “une pita, des pitot” (a term you can use to shine at your next dinner at Balagan, for example). But a matzah, késako? It is a yeast-free bread made from flour and water, which was kneaded in less than eighteen minutes to prevent fermentation. Result, it is flat, because it has not risen. Commonly called “unleavened bread”, it is eaten from the first day of the Seder (the Passover meal) and throughout the following week, to replace traditional bread. But why put yourself through this? Here, nothing for you, are the ten answers to your questions about Jewish Easter.
Why do we eat unleavened bread on Passover?
Reduced to slavery for years by the Pharaoh, the Hebrews managed to get out of Egypt, thanks to Moses. But, frightened by the wrath of the oppressor, they were forced to leave so quickly that the bread had no time to rise. It is to remember this freedom found before joining the Promised Land, that we eat unleavened bread, without yeast, for a week.
Does the Jewish Easter fall at the same time each year?
Yes and no. If it falls on the 14 Nissan of each year of the Hebrew calendar, it differs however from the Gregorian calendar, ours. This year, 14 Nissan corresponds to April 5, while last year it fell on April 15. Anyway, it’s always spring!
What foods are prohibited during this week?
Anything based on the five main cereals, and which are called “hametz”: wheat, barley, rye, oats and spelled, are prohibited. Goodbye bread, pizza, pasta and other couscous! A week before the holidays, it is customary to empty the chametz cupboards and clean up. The only starches allowed during this week are potatoes and, for Tunisian Jews only, rice. The reason ? When a great famine raged in Tunis centuries ago, a caravan loaded with rice entered the city on the eve of Passover. Considering this arrival as a miracle, the rabbis authorized its consumption. And since then, curiously, we often decree Tunisian origins during this week.
What is placed on the symbolic Seder plate?
The Seder plate is made up of sacred foods, each of which has a special meaning. Four cups of wine and three matzos are placed on the table, which are covered and uncovered regularly during prayer. In the tray, we find the zroa (a piece of lamb bone which recalls the sacrifice of the lamb to protect the houses of the Hebrews from the death of the first-born), the betsa (a hard-boiled egg, to represent the destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem), maror (bitter herbs, such as horseradish, to symbolize the bitterness of slavery), charoset (paste of nuts, apples and dates, the color of the mortar of slaves), karpass (parsley or celery, to recall the meager meals of slaves), a bowl of salt water, depicting the tears shed by the Hebrews. Most of these foods will be consumed following a specific ritual, at the start of the meal. As for the bitter herbs, they will be thrown out the window, to ward off the enemies. If you see chicory or coriander falling from balconies that night, you’ll know why!
What do we do during this Passover meal?
As a family, after the various rituals on set, we read the “Haggadah”, which talks about the liberation of the Hebrews from the enslavement of the pharaoh of Egypt, thanks to Moses (if you have seen “The Prince of Egypt”, it’s exactly that story, minus the “When you believe” by Whitney Houston and Mariah Carrey at the end). But this is all in theory. In practice, no one knows where they are in the text, or when it’s their turn to read, but it’s a joyful and very important celebration. Above all, the Passover moral should serve as a guide throughout the year: “In each generation, each has the duty to consider himself as having come out of Egypt”. This means that you have to manage to free yourself from the oppressors (your stupid boss or your ex, for example), in the same way as the Hebrews did with Egypt. A mantra that everyone, regardless of religion, should follow.
What happens after Jewish Easter?
After a week of eating matzots and potatoes, we only dream of one thing: bread, pasta… and couscous! If the Ashkenazim eat everything again at the end of the seventh day, the Sephardim celebrate the end of Passover with great pomp, with Mimouna. The goal ? “Breaking Passover” by preparing everything that was forbidden until then. We have on the table a sweet couscous (semolina with curd and sugar) and above all, Tunisian sandwiches. All in a festive atmosphere, where family and friends come and go around a gargantuan buffet. Undoubtedly the friendliest party!
How to choose a good kosher wine?
For many years, kosher wine did not have the reputation of being a Château Cheval Blanc. However, it is essential on the festive tables. In the cellar, the grapes and the juice must be handled by rabbis, to obtain the “Kosher” certification. A procedure that often took place to the detriment of taste. The main idea was that wine should just be the symbol of God’s gift, regardless of its quality. But after a mini-revolution in the community, weary of heartburn at the end of the meal, these wines have moved upmarket. Today, a large part of French wines have their cuvée kosher. So just choose a good vineyard, like Saint-Émilion, and choose the Jewish version. Cheers, Chaim!
Do Sephardim and Ashkenazim prepare the same for Passover?
Between the two communities, that which comes from Eastern Europe (Ashkenazi) and that from North Africa (Sephardic), the gastronomic opposition has always prevailed. The specialties during the holidays are indeed different. On Passover, Jews in Eastern Europe will instead eat gefilte fish (carp stuffed with matzah breadcrumbs, carrots and onions), while those in North Africa will opt for Msoki (stew of lamb accompanied by several vegetables such as turnips, celery, spinach and leeks).
What should you say to a Jew for Passover?
Well-intentioned, but please avoid “Happy Passover.” You can simply wish “Happy Holidays” or, in a pinch, a “Happy Jewish Easter”. And if you want to go further, go ahead and say “Hag Pessah Sameah” (pronounced “rag Pessar Saméar”) which means “Happy Passover”. Smiles guaranteed!
What is the best dessert for a Seder?
There are delicious Kosher le’pessah cakes, without wheat flour. For example, the Tunisian Sfériès, small traditional honey donuts, whose recipe my aunt Geneviève gives you exclusively.
Sfériès Pessah donuts from Tata Geneviève
For 5 to 6 people
For the syrup
1/4 orange zest
A packet of vanilla sugar
1/4 lemon juice
1 tbsp. starch
3 tbsp. thick honey
1 glass of water
For the Sfériès donuts
6 egg yolks
6 tbsp. level tablespoons unleavened bread flour or potato starch
Half a pot of frying oil
For the syrup
In a dish, mix the sugar with the orange zest, the sachet of vanilla sugar, and the lemon juice.
In a skillet over high heat, transfer the mixture.
Once brought to a boil, reduce the heat to medium and simmer for 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, stir the honey into half a glass of water.
After 20 minutes of cooking, add the honey mixture.
Cook again and over very low heat, 10 min.
In a second half-glass of water, add the starch, and mix.
Slowly add this mixture to the pan and cook over very low heat for another 10 minutes.
For the series
Put the yolks in the flour.
Beat everything in the blender until you get a smooth paste.
Heat half a pan of frying oil over high heat.
Take a small ladle of batter and put it to fry. Continue until the dough is used up.
When the Series are fried, dip them in the syrup, soaking them well, put everything on a plate.
Do the same for the rest of the donuts.
Do not wait before soaking the donuts in the syrup. Good tasting !