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Oxford Companion to Food

Oxford Companion to Food

By Alan Davidson

Published 2014

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Passover (Pesach) one of the most important religious holidays of the Jewish year, is the occasion for special foods. Its origin is explained in the Book of Exodus in the Bible. Bringing pressure to bear on the Pharaoh to let the Hebrews depart from Egypt, Moses cursed the Egyptians with ten plagues, of which the last and most horrific was that all the first-born males in Egyptian families were to die. To ensure that the deity invoked by Moses would not inadvertently cause the death of the first-born of Hebrew families on the night of carnage, Moses required all these families to place a sign of blood on their door posts. The blood was to come from a sacrificial lamb which had to be roasted and eaten with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. Schwartz (1992) points out that the origin of the paschal lamb tradition lay in the pagan habits of a nomadic past:

Past ceremonies are resuscitated every few generations and given a more contemporary meaning which answers the demands of a new understanding. Pesach was a spring thanksgiving festival when nomadic people settled down for a few months to enable the ewes to give birth and suckle their young. It was the only time of the year when they had the opportunity to gather in fertile green enclaves, to tend their flocks, to meet friends and relatives, arrange marriages and conduct business. These gatherings were celebrated with joy and involved mysterious ancient blood rituals to ensure a prosperous year ahead.