April 18th, 2011
09:50 AM ET

Let my people go: Understanding the Passover Seder

CNN.com Religion Editor Dan Gilgoff explains the Jewish festival of Passover, which starts at sundown Monday and commemorates the Israelites' liberation from slavery in Egypt thousands of years ago.

Watch the video above to learn more about the Seder - the meal in which the story of Exodus is told - and the various symbols used during the holiday, including matzo (unleavened bread), bitter herbs, salt water and a lamb shank bone.

We'd like to hear from you: Tell us how you're celebrating Passover this year. Are you doing anything different at your Seder?

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Food • Holidays • Judaism • Moses

soundoff (326 Responses)
  1. Jay

    I don't believe the exodus took place. And what would have the number of Jews been, traveling in the wilderness? A million people or thereabouts? To me, beliefs and traditions can add goodness and richness – as part of culture. But the divisions are in the beliefs themselves. When a group of people say that a deity has a people – one group of people among all the people of the earth – that thought is going to cause division. Also,in today's cutlure, if a man came up to me and said that he heard from God to go over to a tribe and kill every man, woman and child and take their land... I would assume this man is insane and a terrorist. Yet Moses is celebrated? After a while, you gotta figure that that belief of "my people"just isn't healthy. It will cause division. And, of couse, this isn't limited to Judasim (by far!). It applies to any belief that includes a chosen people of God. It's pure nonesense! And that's what happens when rigidly applies an ancient book that was written by man.

    Having said all that, I have no problem with a person using religion to make themselves feel better about themselves, mankind, the future, afterlife, etc. Just when it divides one from the other – which is the end result of chosen people and "us versus them" mentality.

    April 18, 2011 at 12:45 pm |
    • Jeremy

      Sure, in a simplistic way you can look at " Chosen" and see a form of Us vs them. But in Jewish theology being " Chosen" was not seen as making us better, more important, or at a higher level. If you had studied basic Judaism you would know the answer to this. Being chosen means taking on the responsiblities of following Kashrut, abiding by the 613 laws, and living a clean life. You also have to understand Jewish history to understand the meaning of the exodus. It resonates to the core of the Jewish experience in Diaspora Jewish life, and what has gone on since the loss of Judaea 2,000 years ago. And in some parts of the world,(Iran) still go on.

      April 18, 2011 at 12:51 pm |
    • Person of Faith

      You would dismiss the Bible because it's a book "written by man," yet I am to believe your comments even though they were "written by man"?

      April 18, 2011 at 2:12 pm |
    • Jay

      @Person of Faith- It's not that I dismiss the Bible because it was written by man. Everything is written by man. I have yet to see something written by a deity. I dismiss the Bible because it's fantasy. Noah's ark, a man being born of a virgin, raising from the dead after three days, a man being in the belly of a whale for three days, God doing this... God doing that...

      I used to read/study all the time (former Christian here). I had a real passion for it. But slowly, logic and reason have prevailed. I don't believe in the biblical god any more. My point was (is) that if you say the one, true God has a "people," His people... then what about all the other people? It's built-in divisiveness. The statement itself divides as much as Jews & Gentiles, the sheep & the goats, the wheat & the chaff, etc., etc. We need more unity in this world – not more divisions among us. We're ALL human beings. I belong to the human race, just like everyone else.

      April 18, 2011 at 5:39 pm |
  2. Jennifer Whiddon

    I will be praying to God/Allah that we have world peace and all the true believers are liberated from the opprssions of government/false prophets and self-slavery. I will be praying tonight with my mother and eating cookies.

    April 18, 2011 at 12:40 pm |
    • Person of Faith

      If you are going to pray, you should pray to God, not Allah. Please do not confuse Truth and Deception.

      April 18, 2011 at 2:09 pm |
  3. shuman tape

    Like Moses and God peoples in slavery cross over the sea to freedom ,Jesus passover the death to eternal life for us.So whoever believes in Him did not perish but have eternal life.

    April 18, 2011 at 12:35 pm |
  4. Ivan Bial

    It’s always been a mystery to me why as Jews were supposed to know all about Christian holidays and traditions.
    However Christian know almost nothing about Jewish holidays and traditions, even though the foundation of there version of religion came from Judaism

    April 18, 2011 at 12:34 pm |
    • Jeremy

      Ivan, its amazing how little is known if you ask supposedly religious people basic questions about Judaism. I had to explain to a co-worker what Matzah is! If you dont explain what it means in English, they have no idea what your talking about. The hebrew is lost on them. But these are the people who hold the religious truth for our nation :rollingeyes:

      April 18, 2011 at 12:38 pm |
    • Justin Observation

      It's okay Ivan, non-religious people tend to know more about all the religions, than most of the people in them. Do you know anything about the many pagan holidays and beliefs that some of your religious holidays and beliefs were based on?


      April 18, 2011 at 12:51 pm |
    • Person of Faith

      This is changing. Christians are beginning to pay more attention to their Hebrew roots. The Christian church I attend offers classes in biblical Hebrew, and some of us have been studying Hebrew for years, but we were never offered classes like this when we were growing up, so we are off to a very late start.

      April 18, 2011 at 1:59 pm |
    • Finger Puppet

      @ Person of Faith,
      That's exactly the problem...education.
      So by the time you're 95, you will come to see that it's all a load of cr-p, and you will wish you had read some Steven Hawking while you had the chance, to get a glimpse of what the universe is really all about.

      April 19, 2011 at 1:08 am |
  5. Justin Observation

    From what I have learned Canaanites (some of which later became Israelites) were more like migrant workers in Egypt.rather than slaves. As Egypt's climate changed and their power collapsed, jobs dwindled, and the "exodus" was not all Jews leaving at once and taking forty years to cross the desert, (a trip that should take 40 days max. at a comfortable pace, 400 miles @ 10 miles per day, under 4 hours of walking per day) (40 years would be a pace of 145 feet per day. The common garden snail travels at 150 feet per HOUR.) but rather, there was a long period of Egyptian decline, and the Jews trickled out over a forty year period. Perhaps under a good bit of scourge and hate, like Mexican migrant workers face in the U.S. when economic times get tough. The eventual Israelites simply embellished their history to make it sound more dramatic than a simple economic collapse that resulted in steady job losses. It's still a cool story though, even if it was mostly copied from other older stories.


    April 18, 2011 at 12:24 pm |
  6. bailoutsos

    Angel of Death passed over homes of heathens and killed the first born male. Cool religion. If you do not put a cross, from goats blood, on your door, you are not God's children?

    April 18, 2011 at 12:22 pm |
    • M.Delroba

      Well, perhaps it was some poison gas! just like the one in African lake few yrs ago which killed the entire village at dawn,
      angel of death to some , nature to others.

      April 18, 2011 at 12:29 pm |
    • Godless

      There was a show on the History Channel a year or so ago that basically provided real world alternatives to many of the events in the bible; one example was the lake gases killing the first born children. Why only first born? Because apparently families at that time had first born children sleeping on the floor (if I remember right) so the low lying gas only affected them. The show also gave scientific explanations for things like the parting of the sea, the locusts, and some other stuff. I wish I remembered the name of it, but it was pretty interesting.

      April 18, 2011 at 1:08 pm |
    • Person of Faith

      The blood represents the blood of the Messiah. It is telling you, prophetically, that salvation comes through the blood of the Messiah, which Christians believe to be Jesus Christ. The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through the Lord Jesus Christ.

      April 18, 2011 at 1:45 pm |
  7. Mike


    This is part of our heritage as human beings. There's no need to bicker over religious beliefs, or lack thereof. The richness and variety of our history is a good thing . . .

    April 18, 2011 at 12:20 pm |
  8. Rajbir

    Thank you CNN for posting this. I found the video very educative and hope that you will continue to post more videos, explaining the various cultures in our world.

    April 18, 2011 at 12:16 pm |
  9. Dan

    Nice to see this clip, but it really missed the main point. The discussion around some of the key aspects of the Passover seder were fine, but it failed to really address why this is such a central holiday for Jews. They key point is that in jewish tradition the mass revelation that begins on Passover with very public proffecies and plagues, and culminates in the mass revelation when the 10 commandments are given at Sinai on the holiday of Shavuot (9 weeks later), represents an experiential connection with the divine. In short: seeing is believing. That's why these are such central holidays. A shame this really didn;t come through.

    I found the references to ancient Hebrews and Isrealites to be confusing for people who are really learning about this. Why not just say Jews?

    April 18, 2011 at 12:16 pm |
    • M.Delroba

      Again the Movies and real facts or archeological proofs are not the same, there is no evidence of Prophet Moses real location when the Torah was received,,was it in Sinai or Arabia????

      April 18, 2011 at 12:26 pm |
  10. NYC

    Charlton Heston was the best Moses actor ever !

    April 18, 2011 at 12:14 pm |
    • Lycidas

      Prince of Egypt was a good movie.

      April 18, 2011 at 2:10 pm |
  11. Cassie

    @Father Green, you really should brush up on your Egyptian history a bit more. There is NO proof that the Jews were enslaved in Egypt. The people that built the pyramids were paid laborers who were buried (with honors) near the base of the pyramids.

    April 18, 2011 at 12:12 pm |
  12. Susan

    Wow – seems like it's spit on the Jews day again. All this vile hate – this is exactly why we celebrate Passover and all of our other Holidays and Festivals. It is to retell the story and remember what happened. "Those who do not remember the past are doomed to repeat it." I for one would rather not repeat being slaves in Egypt. If you don't believe, fine but I don't slam what you believe in and I don't spew vile hateful words because you're different – now, if you would just show me the same respect I show you we'd be getting somewhere.

    April 18, 2011 at 12:07 pm |
    • M.Delroba

      No spiting day please!
      Not on Jews or anybody,
      Just the facts lady , just the facts!

      April 18, 2011 at 12:22 pm |
    • Angel with broken wing

      I am not Jewish but am married to a wonderful Jewish guy for 21 years now. I am offended by all of these mean spirited remarks because I AM JEWISH when it comes to standing up to those that hate! I'm also mother to a beautiful, Jewish daughter (my choice for her).

      April 18, 2011 at 12:30 pm |
    • Justin Observation

      Susan, you were not a slave in Egypt, so you wouldn't be repeating anything. You are also not being spat on today are you? Some people debate, some spew ignorant hate, there is a difference, but some people don't see it that way. Some people view any challenge or discussion of their beliefs as hate speech, and call out the "persecution" card and demand the world be censored. Nobody knows if the Jews were slaves in Egypt, there is no real evidence of that. I agree that people should study and remember history, but it should be accurate history, don't you think? Perhaps this 3 thousand year belief that Jews were once a slave to Egyptians, is affecting Jews perception of Egyptians, and maybe even vice-versa. Maybe 3,000 years of animosity toward each other is enough, whether the story was true or false.


      April 18, 2011 at 12:43 pm |
    • Person of Faith

      Fortunately, the kind of people that post rude insults on this and other web sites don't represent anyone but themselves. I am not Jewish, but I was invited by my friend to a Passover Seder, so I went. There were four of us there, and I think only the host was actually Jewish, but we all participated in the Seder and listened to Hebrew music.

      April 18, 2011 at 1:24 pm |
  13. huh biggen

    my favorit color is patao chips

    April 18, 2011 at 12:03 pm |
  14. SadieSadie

    You know those very same archaeologists that 'can't find a shard of pottery' to prove that the Israelites were ever enslaved in Egypt are the same ones that can't find the fossils of the creatures that are supposed to prove evolution. I am sure there were many generations between the first glob of dna and the first walking upright human. Where are all the stages in between?

    April 18, 2011 at 12:00 pm |
    • Really

      Archeology is not paleontology is not biology is not the same thing.

      April 18, 2011 at 2:15 pm |
    • pookie

      Archeologists understand what happened in Egypt based on overwhelming corroborating evidence from those meticulous, industrious, plucky literate Egyptians and everything they left behind. There is no hint of the Exodus in this vast collection of information which can be viewed in any museum or in any book on the subject. Evolution is supported by a even more vast collection of data from multiple scientific disciplines that can be viewed in any museum or in any book on the subject. To suggest there is an absence of data is willful ignorance.

      The Bible is an anthology of literature of human origin. I find the subject thoroughly fascinating and recommend PBS/NOVAs "The Bible's Buried Secrets" for some great background on this period.

      April 18, 2011 at 6:30 pm |
  15. Rob

    P.S., religion is a belief. i.e. it doesn't matter if there's "archaelogical proof", we still believe. Just like I believe a lot of these comments come from children of incestous rednecks....you can present all the proof against this you want, but based on these comments...I am adamant in my belief.

    April 18, 2011 at 11:54 am |
    • Person of Faith

      There IS archaeological evidence to support biblical faith. For example, the dead sea scrolls, the wailing wall, the pool of Siloam, etc.

      April 18, 2011 at 1:14 pm |
    • Artist

      Person of Faith

      "There IS archaeological evidence to support biblical faith. For example, the dead sea scrolls, the wailing wall, the pool of Siloam, etc."

      There is evidence to support belief/faith in the Easter Bunny, Santa, Zues etc. There is evidence of wishful thinking all around us so do you have a point?

      April 18, 2011 at 1:31 pm |
    • Godless

      @ Erin – I love ancient alien theory too! I find that more plausible than any of the stuff from holy texts.

      April 18, 2011 at 2:26 pm |
    • Melody

      Erin realize that when a person feels the need to keep belittling others it makes them feel empowered because of their own lack of self esteem.

      April 18, 2011 at 2:42 pm |
    • Entil'zha

      Oh great, no doubt erin was getting her alien information from the Weekly World News before.

      April 18, 2011 at 3:54 pm |
    • Evy

      Yes, they do say ignorance is bliss don't they...oh how very sad for you....

      April 18, 2011 at 4:29 pm |
    • Entil'zha

      You silly piece of intellectual flotsam.....based on how we have been talking. sadness would equal wisdom while you being blissful makes you ignorant.

      April 18, 2011 at 5:26 pm |
    • Finger Puppet

      @Person of Faith,
      Each of the things you list could be used also to support non belief.
      Artist is correct.

      April 19, 2011 at 12:54 am |
    • Kenosis

      Actually, the archaeology referenced had to do with it's connection the Bible/Torah.

      April 19, 2011 at 3:07 pm |
  16. Mike

    So god killed ALL first born children who weren't Jewish or whatever? Isn't that kind of how the Russian mob or Colombian drug cartel would handle the problem?

    April 18, 2011 at 11:53 am |
    • Alverant

      Yeah pretty much. God can slaughter thousands, if not millions of innocent children, but can't teleport his chosen people to their own land. But what can you expect? This god also authorized the genocide of the people living on the lands the ancient Jews wanted for their "homeland". History has a funny way of repeating itself.

      April 18, 2011 at 12:55 pm |
    • Zebula

      The Jewish G_d is not a real nice guy. He's a jealous guy with lots of nasty human characteristics.

      April 18, 2011 at 12:55 pm |
    • Person of Faith

      The death of the first born son in each family in Egypt is a prophetic picture of the death of God's Son on the cross. The blood over each door, and on the door posts beside the door, on each home throughout the land of Israel is a prophetic picture of the blood of Jesus. The first born sons throughout the land of Israel were spared the fate of the first born sons throughout the land of Egypt because of the blood on the door, signifying that there is salvation through the blood of Christ.

      April 18, 2011 at 12:58 pm |
    • 4321

      The Tenth Plague was a punishment and was not brought as a threat, like the first nine Plagues. That's not "handling a problem", it was retribution that G-d gave for the actions of Pharoh and the Egyptians. And if you are wondering why he doesn't do such a thing now, see my other replies.

      April 18, 2011 at 4:03 pm |
    • Artist

      Mike, god can be a real bas t-ard sometime. Hey wasnt jesus a bas t-ard? The real story is Mary la-yed with many men, who knows who jesus' real father was? I feel bad for joseph for marrying a wh-ore.

      April 18, 2011 at 4:05 pm |
    • Entil'zha

      Thank you for being rude Artist. Quite uncalled for. But I guess you don't respect ppl's right to religion.

      April 18, 2011 at 4:07 pm |
  17. Steve

    Moses didn't even exist? If so, then where did the commandments come from? They sound like ten tribal rules. Maybe the Sainai desert was a "Please take out what you bring in" area. If the exodus is a myth, then what of the virgin birth, death, and ressurection of Osiris? Bet you thought I was going to say someone else.

    April 18, 2011 at 11:50 am |
    • Father Green

      So people leaving enslavement for a better land doesn't seem true to you, but a virgin birth is?

      April 18, 2011 at 12:04 pm |
    • Lycidas

      "If so, then where did the commandments come from?"

      If one does not believe the Torah, that sounds like a question for an atheist to answer.

      April 18, 2011 at 2:00 pm |
    • Finger Puppet

      Would like to recommend a PBS NOVA program, "The Buried Secrets of the Bible". It is a two hour review of the history and archeology of the integration of some people from Egypt into an already existing Cannanite culture. Very enlightening.

      April 19, 2011 at 12:48 am |
    • AsTheCrowFlies

      The Ten Commandments are so obviously the work of a cranky old man who couldn't think of anything better after making the tablets.
      I mean, really! What a collection of retarded BS! And this is supposed to come from some "god"?
      Give me a break! Total and utter BS. Moses was a fraud who probably picked up many magic tricks from Egypt's priests. Total loser who found a way to fool lots of people all of the time.
      Ten Commandments my ass! Those are bullshlte and always will be.

      April 19, 2011 at 12:56 am |
    • Kenosis

      @AsTheCrowFlies- Thank you for your ill concieved, childish, biased opinion. No doubt it will be put where all junk is.

      April 19, 2011 at 2:17 pm |
  18. Reality

    Based on the following review of the New Torah for Modern Minds, one must ask, do Conservative Jews celebrate Passover?

    origin: http://query.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=F20E1EFE35540C7A8CDDAA0894DA404482

    "The notion that the Bible is not literally true "is more or less settled and understood among most Conservative rabbis," observed David Wolpe, a rabbi at Sinai Temple in Los Angeles and a contributor to "Etz Hayim." But some congregants, he said, "may not like the stark airing of it." Last Passover, in a sermon to 2,200 congregants at his synagogue, Rabbi Wolpe frankly said that "virtually every modern archaeologist" agrees "that the way the Bible describes the Exodus is not the way that it happened, if it happened at all." The rabbi offered what he called a "litany of disillusion" about the narrative, including contradictions, improbabilities, chronological lapses and the absence of corroborating evidence. In fact, he said, archaeologists digging in the Sinai have "found no trace of the tribes of Israel - not one shard of pottery."

    April 18, 2011 at 11:42 am |
    • DBM

      I remember learning in a world history class in college that the historical evidence suggested that the Jews were never enslaved in ancient Egypt at all!...

      April 18, 2011 at 12:21 pm |
    • Lycidas

      Oy Reality, you are so confused. It may shock you but unlike Christianity, most schools on Jewish thought does not hold up the Torah in a literalist manner. Plz go educate yourself beyond general religion courses about how to trash faith.

      April 18, 2011 at 1:58 pm |
    • 4321

      @DBM - Because if they admitted that that facet of the Torah was legitimate, they'd have to believe in the entire thing.

      April 18, 2011 at 4:06 pm |
    • Reality


      origin: http://query.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=F20E1EFE35540C7A8CDDAA0894DA404482

      "Not among Orthodox Jews, however. They continue to regard the Torah as the divine and immutable word of God. Their most widely used Torah commentary, known as the Stone Edition (1993), declares in its introduction "that every letter and word of the Torah was given to Moses by God."

      April 18, 2011 at 6:51 pm |
    • Lycidas

      Thank you for supporting my statement reality. That's why I didn't say all Jewish groups.

      April 18, 2011 at 7:30 pm |
    • Reality

      But there are basically only two Jewish groups based on numbers, the majority of which are Orthodox.

      April 18, 2011 at 11:35 pm |
    • Kenosis

      That would be like saying there are only Catholics and Protestants. And ignoring the myriad of little groups within each one.

      April 19, 2011 at 2:01 pm |
  19. Pete

    Who cares? Why is this newsworthy?

    April 18, 2011 at 11:32 am |
    • Luke

      Because today is Passover. What don't you get?

      April 18, 2011 at 11:44 am |
    • E

      Because it's fun.

      November 28, 2011 at 6:34 pm |
  20. Jeremy

    Sounds like you know nothing about Pesach...yes we are free now, but we have been free before inbetween times when we were persecuted. This is about remembering where we came from, how we got here, and what can and HAS happened to us.

    April 18, 2011 at 11:23 am |
    • Angel with broken wing

      Thank you for your words. Clearly some folks just can't play in the same sandbox...even as adults! How sad. Tolerance is a gift to yourself!

      April 18, 2011 at 12:22 pm |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.