Keith Hunt - Passover in Eastern Europe - Page Four   Restitution of All Things

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Passover in Eastern Europe - 1938

Many Jews still observe it in this basic way!

                          THE JEWISH FESTIVALS #4

                          History and Observance


                              Hayimm Schauss

One must remember that this book was written in 1938, and it is
quite possible that some of the traditions here mentioned have
passed away with time. It is also very important to note that the
religious Jews of the 1938 period and of today are mainly from
the Pharisee theology beliefs and traditions. Some religious Jews
are of a different theology, but what is mentioned here is
Pharisee theology - Keith Hunt.


Between Purim and Pesach 

     It is the day after Purim, yet one already feels that Pesach
approaches; Pesach is in the air. Housewives are already buying
the raisins needed for the wine, hops for brewing the mead, and
are pickling beets for the Pesach borscht. People are having long
discussions with the tailor about new clothes and with the
cobbler about new shoes for the children. These are the
preliminaries which give way to feverish excitement around the
first days of Nisan. The wine and mead are being clarified and
bottled; not a woman in town has a moment of spare time. Pesach
is almost upon us!
     But the greatest excitement is in the "matsoh bakeries,"
where "matsos" are being baked for the entire town. There are
three or four of them and every one is working fast and
furiously. The matsos made here are not for sale; each Jew brings
his own sack of flour and pays the owner to bake matsos for him.
Two kinds of matsos are baked, classified according to the degree
of their kashrus, of the care taken to ensure that they are
ritually correct for the Pesach festival. One type is the regular
matsoh which the Jews of the town bake to eat throughout the
festival. No special credit goes to a man for eating matsoh
throughout the festival; one is not allowed to eat bread and
must, therefore, eat matsoh. There is, however, a second type of
matsoh; it bears the name "matsoh shel mitsvoh" (the matsoh of
the precept). The Jew is enjoined to eat a "k'zayis" (size of an
olive) of this matsoh Pesach eve at the Seder, and a special
blessing is recited. This "matsob shel mitsvoh" is specially
prepared and baked with greater care than is given the ordinary
matsoh. It is guarded not only during the baking; from the time
the grain is cut it is continually watched so that no trace of
dampness comes near it. It is therefore called "matsoh sh'muroh,
guarded matsoh", or, for short, "sh'muroh."

     Most householders get only enough of this special matsoh to
serve at the two Seders, the first two nights of the festival.
During the rest of Pesach ordinary matsoh will be eaten by all
except the rabbi. He is so pious that nothing but sh'muroh is
used in his home during the entire festival.

     There is fearful excitement in the bakery in which the
sh'muroh is being baked in the last few days before the holiday.
Every motion is made with the thought that it is being done for
the matsoh shel mitsvoh. The rabbi stands like a general on the
battlefield, giving orders; and he sees that every participant
pronounces the words, "For the sake of the matsoh shel mitsvoh,"
as he does his part of the work.
     The water handler pours the water into the flour and calls
out, "For the sake of the matsoh shel mitsvoh." The kneader rolls
the dough and calls out, "For the sake of the matsoh shel
mitsvoh." The shearer cuts off length after length of dough to
the tune of "For the sake of the matsoh shel mitsvoh." The
rollers move their rolling-pins over the dough, flattening it,
calling as they roll, "For the sake of the matsoh shel mitsvoh."
The stipplers take the flattened dough and perforate it in
straight lines, calling out, "For the sake of the matsoh shel
mitsvoh." The Hebrew words come from the tongues of the male
workers with ease since they all know some Hebrew. The women,
however, are not versed in Hebrew. They find it difficult to
repeat such a long phrase, and it sounds garbled and
unrecognizable. The men laugh and the women blush; they say it
thereafter quietly, barely moving their lips. And through it all
the rabbi gives orders, correcting workers and watching
carefully. It is no small responsibility, this baking of the

     There are, of course, poor Jews who have not the means to
bake their own matsos and to prepare everything necessary for
Pesach. But they are cared for. The rabbi, together with two of
the more well-to-do members of the community, go from house to
house several weeks before Pesach and gather "mo-os chittim"
(money for wheat to bake matsos, as the fund is called). There is
no difficulty in collecting this fund. All who do not receive
from it have to give to it. That is the custom from olden times
and all observe it.

     For the Jewish children, rich or poor, this is the happiest
time of the year; everything is so exciting and engrossing. In
addition, beginning with the first day of Nisan, school is open
only half a day. And even this half-day is not as tedious as
usual, for one learns all about the festival. Study centers about
the Haggadah, the book of services for Pesach eve, and the
teacher explains it with long interpretations of every detail of
the book; often he illustrates a passage with a parable from the
Preacher of Dubno. And what could be more engrossing than that?
These are days of freedom for the Jewish lad, days filled with
longing and expectation. Indoors one is on the threshold of
Pesach; outdoors on the threshold of spring. The nights are still
cold, but the sun shines with increasing warmth during the day
and the winter's mud slowly dries up. Mild winds caress the skin,
harbingers of spring. They bring the joyful message of a world
becoming youthful and green.
     Who could stay at home on days like these? The lads wander
about and their mothers are glad to have them out of the way. It
is still too early to wander into the forest; there the snows and
swamps of winter still linger on. But they wander to the stream
to see if the water has overflowed the banks, or they play games
with nuts in some dry spot, generally the courtyard of the
     The pre-Pesach excitement reaches its highest in the last
few days before the holiday. The housewives ask the men to assist
as they wash, scour, whitewash, and shine. Everything being
cleaned and aired. The chomets of the long, cold winter is being
cleaned away to make way for Pesach.

Shabbos ha-Godol

     The Saturday before the festival is known as "Shabbos
ha-Godol," the Great Sabbath. It is a Sabbath, but different from
other Sabbaths, in that the holiday waits on the threshold, ready
to enter and take possession. In the synagogue a portion of the
Haggadah is recited, and just before the afternoon services, the
rabbi gives his holiday sermon. He begins with a long and
complicated argumentation on the laws relating to chomets; from
this he proceeds with a dialectic discussion of Moses and
Pharaoh; of the exodus from Egypt and the crossing of the Red
Sea; he concludes, perhaps, with a new interpretation of a
difficult passage in the Song of Songs, or with a new moral
evolved from "A Kid, A Kid." The congregation listens intently,
figuratively eats up his words. But, the youngsters are not
interested. What need have they of Pesach sermons when they have
the very taste of Pesach in their mouths? For, at noon that day
they ate pudding made of matsoh-meal, prepared in honor of the

It is the night before Pesach eve
The Search for Leave

     Now comes the ceremony of searching for leaven. It is an 
ancient custom to search for the last hits of chomets on the
thirteenth day of Nisan. (Actually it is the beginning of the
14th day as, but still the 13th on the Roman calendar - the
Pharisees Jews were doing this on the evening that was the actual
Passover as Jesus observed it with His disciples and as it was
originally in Exodus 12 - Keith Hunt). 
     But how is one to find chomets in a house that is washed and
clean that the housewife has scoured for weeks? Still the
ceremony must be held and the head of the household must recite
his benediction for the occasion. Benedictions must not be
pronounced in vain, so the housewife obligingly places pieces of
bread in various corners of the house, the number generally being
     When the master returns from the evening prayers he at once
sets about the task of searching for chomets. He holds an old
wooden spoon in one hand and the feathers of a goose in the
other. Possibly, instead of the feathers, he uses a few willow
twigs that he saved from last Sukkos especially for this
occasion. He pronounces the benediction and begins the search for
bread; obligingly the housewife walks ahead of him with a candle
and directs him to the spots and corners where she planted bits
of bread; the children follow after, observing every move with
curiosity. Eventually the father has all the bits of bread
gathered in the hollow of the wooden spoon, wrapped in cloth and
bound with thread. He hides it all away to be burned on the

The Day Before fore Pesach 

     Everybody rises early on the day before Pesach. (This is now
the morning of the 14th day, as the Pharisees were one day late
in observing the Passover, they therefore combined the Passover
evening with that of the evening of the first holy day of
Unleavened Bread making a feast of 7 days, where it should have 
been 8 days - Keith Hunt). 
     Prayers are held much earlier than usual and the earliest
risers are the first-born males. It is an old custom that these
first-born must fast on the day before Pesach. They can be
exempted from this fasting only upon attendance at a religious
feast, such as at the completion of the study of a tractate of
the Talmud. So, immediately following the early morning services
in the synagogue, a study circle in the Talmud or Mishnah is in
session in order to hold such a religious feast, and thus to
release the first-born from the prescribed fast. The study circle
is seated at a long table and one of their number reads the last
portion of a treatise of the Talmud. The finishing of a volume of
Talmud is always an occasion for celebration, and all attending
partake of cake and brandy. Most of those in attendance are
firstborn males.
     All rush home after the services, to eat the last meal at
which bread may be eaten. The housewives then heat their stoves,
and certain metal pots are placed in the stove to make them
kosher for Pesach. Some over-pious women even cauterize the
needle they use for sewing up the stuffed derma, to make certain
that no chomets clings to it. Some even scour and make kosher the
latch of the door.
     The rabbi's home is as crowded as a fair, with Jews who wish
to sell him their chomets. After Pesach it is forbidden to use
any chomets, belonging to a Jew, that was left over from before
the holiday, even as fuel for the stove. However, it is permitted
to use left-over chomets belonging to a non-Jew. So a legal
fiction is perpetrated, whereby the rabbi acts as an agent and
"sells" all this chomets to a non-Jew. In every town there is a
certain non-Jew who has the option on the "buying" of all the
chomets in the possession of the Jews of the town at Pesach. It
is understood, of course, that some commission for the
transaction must be left with the rabbi, and that the non-Jew
will later repent of the transaction.

(You talk about double dealing and traditions replacing the
commandments of God, this is a classic example, no wonder Jesus
said what He said in Mark 7:7 and context - Keith Hunt)

     By ten in the morning there is a roaring fire in the big
stove in the "Bes ha-Midrosh," the House of Study, which is close
to the synagogue, and the beadle goes through the town calling,
"Burn your chomets." From all streets come boys and men, bearing
in their hands the bound-up spoons that were hidden away the
night before, to be cast into the roaring fire.
     The men go to the public bath to bathe before the midday
meal. They may eat, on that day, neither bread nor matsoh.
(Matsoh must be a new food when served at the Seder in the
evening.) So the meal consists of potatoes, fish, and other such
neutral foodstuffs.

Afternoon (of the 14th day)

     Each house is clean, without a trace of chomets. The dishes
in ordinary use have been packed away and new dishes take their
place. Everything bears the spirit of the festival and of spring.
The housewife and the older daughters are busy preparing the food
for the evening feast. The children are sent to bring the
charoses, the mixture of ground nuts and fruits in wine, needed
for the Seder. Some pious individual prepares enough charoses to
supply the entire town, and as the children get theirs, they
leave behind some change which their mothers gave them for the
purpose. The money is donated for educational and charitable
     The sexton goes from house to house, selling matsoh sh'muroh
to each family. All is now ready for the evening. The men come
home from the evening services. "Gut Yom-T ov!" (a happy
holiday). The greetings fly back and forth. The home is filled
with light; the attitude of the entire household is festive. The
table is ready, set with oriental grace. Memories of an ancient
day hover over it. The master of the house seats himself on a
sofa bedecked with white cushions; he sits with the freedom and
airs of a king. Modest charm and a peaceful, festive joy shine in
the face of the housewife. The entire family sits about and the
Seder, the prescribed Pesach eve service, begins.

The Seder 

     Using the chant and the translations taught him by his
teacher, the youngest son asks the traditional four questions as
to the meaning of the evening and the customs of the occasion.
His father answers him, beginning with "We were slaves to Pharaoh
in Egypt," and continues the service in the Haggadah, the family
accompanying him and chanting with him.
     The first part is finished. Then comes the second part, the
main feature of which is the eating of certain foodstuffs with
appropriate blessings. The feast ends with the eating of the 
"afikomon," the half-matsoh that the master hid beneath a cushion
at the very start of the Seder, and guarded closely throughout
the service, for one of the children tried to steal it away from
him. Should the child succeed, then the father must offer him a
gift before he returns it. When there is no child present, the
master's wife will sometimes steal the a afikomon and demand a
     Then comes the third part of the Seder, consisting of
various prayers and songs. One of the main features is the
pouring of a cup of wine for Elijah, then the door is opened so
that he may enter and drink. The youngsters, meantime, fall
asleep. But the rest of the family continue to sit about and sing
the old folk songs of the Haggadah, "Who Knows One," and "A Kid,
A Kid."

The Pesach Days 

   The eight days of the festival pass by as a sweet dream. (It is
possible the writer in giving 8 days for the feast was indeed
putting the search for leaven on the 13th of the Hebrew month,
and not the 14th as is done by most Pharisee Jews today; if this
is so then he is giving a tradition of East-European Jews keeping
alive the original 8 days of this Spring feast - the 14th being
the Passover day and the 15-21 the seven days of Unleavened Bread,
or he is just mixed up himself in what was done by the Jews and what
the Scriptures clearly teach - Keith Hunt)

     Matsoh and beet soup, dumplings and pancakes are eaten and
eaten; the children play games with nuts. Sometimes tragedy
enters a household. A seed of grain is found in a pot! The pot is
carried to the rabbi, who ordains it as chomets and declares that
not only man, but no living being may eat out of it. Sadly the
dumplings or puddings are carted far from the house and
     And who can keep seeds of grain from blowing in the wells?
Every day the sexton calls out in the synagogue that the water of
this one's or that one's well cannot be used for the holiday. By
the last day of the festival there is barely one well that is not

The Evenin of the Last Day 

     The Pesach utensils and dishes are packed away and the
ordinary ones are brought out again. The bakers prepare their
ovens for baking bread. Before any bread can be obtained,
however, all the matsoh that was left over, is eaten, though from
regular dishes.
     The non-Jew to whom the chomets was sold before Pesach is
already seated in the rabbi's home. As usual, he tells the rabbi
that he has repented of his contract and asks what he can do with
such a large amount of wares and where he can get the money to
pay for them. The rabbi kindly relieves him of his contract and
the non-Jew goes on his way, happy that the amount he left,
originally, as a deposit, has been returned to him two-fold. The
chomets, having been in the possession of a non-Jew during
Pesach, can now be used by the Jews.

(Obviously a tradition added as such cannot be found in the books
of Moses, then again many things were added by the Pharisees over
a period of centuries concerning the Passover and Unleavened
Bread Feast - Keith Hunt)

Pesach in America - the Family Festival

     Pesach has had a long history and has had many evolutions in
the course of its career; (please note what the author just said
- Keith Hunt) but it retains to this day one quality it possessed
from the very beginning of time. It is a family festival. Here,
in America, Pesach is the holiday which unites all members of the
family and brings them together at one table, at one joyful
feast. Children, grandchildren, brothers and sisters, nephews and
nieces, all gather to observe the holiday in the same festive
spirit. It makes no difference whether a family is observant or
not, whether they recite the Haggadah or not; they come together,
enjoy the festive spirit of Pesach eve, and feel brotherliness
and warmth in the atmosphere of the united family.


To be continued


You need to read the study "Passover -  A Jewish Seder?" on this

The Passover today under the New Testament Covenant is far from
being what the Jews still observe as Passover. It is today, as
instituted by Christ, a service of Bread and Fruit of the Vine,
and foot-washing. All fully explained in many studies on this
Website. I will add here that I do believe it should be a FAMILY
event, with CHILDREN able to OBSERVE the important symbols of the
body and blood of the Messiah and the sacrifice He made for the
sins of the whole world, and of course especially for those who
will accept Him as their personal savior. 

Keith Hunt

March 2010

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