What constitutes kosher l'pesach can vary by community. This includes nuances beyond the well-known difference that Ashkenazim include kitniyot in the definition of chametz while Sephardim do not. Non-halakhic communities, e.g. Samaritans and Beta Yisrael, lay outside of the domain of this study, as their concept of kashrut in general is far afield from that of rabbinic Judaism.
Color Key: Ashkenaz | Mizrahi | Sephardic | Universal
Traditionally, matzah was always hand-made, round, and not at all crackery. This changed in 1875 with the invention of a matzah machine. After much debate over whether these square crackers could be considered kosher for Passover, it was widely accepted as a viable option, though round hand-made matzah remains the preference for many.
Matzah in the Patriarchal Age
Rashi insists that the meal Avraham served to his guests in Bereshit 19 included unleavened bread (matzah) because it was a Passover meal. Others of the Sages do not arrive at the same conclusion.
What the given passage does establish is just that Israel was already familiar with unleavened bread (matzah) when the command to prepare it in connection with the Exodus was given.
Yemenite matzah is traditionally soft and much thicker than that generally used elsewhere, though it matches the descriptions in Shulchan Aruch HaRav and other Ashkenaz and Sephardic sources (e.g., Mishnah Berurah 486:3; Aruch HaShulchan Orach Chaim 460:2).
... the matza selected for consumption at the Seder table is particularly special, and shemura matza is the only type very observant Jews use. Chassidim eat only shemura matza for the duration of the holiday. Shemura matza is generally made completely by hand in special bakeries not otherwise in operation throughout the year. The cost per pound is, of course, much higher than machine-made matza.1
Some Ashkenazim abstain from matzo balls on Pesach because of a practice called gebrochts which prohibits the consumption of any matzah product which has been soaked in water or broth.
The case against the stringency of gebrochts is presented in Peninei Halakhah, below:
Sha'arei Teshuva (OC 460:10) notes that both groups are meritorious. Those who do not eat gebrochts are motivated by yiras shomayim (fear of heaven), lest they inadvertently transgress the laws of Pesach. The ones who are lenient are concerned that not eating gebrochts will limit their simchas (joy of) Yom Tov. Sha'arei Teshuva concludes: “Both groups are pursuing paths for the sake of Heaven, and I declare: And Your people are entirely righteous (Yeshaya 60:21).”
Sephardic Egg Matzah
The Yemenite twist on this is to dip matzo in a pot of eggs and ghee.
Ashkenazic vs. Sephardic Halakhot
The general ruling on kitniyot (corn, rice, beans, peas, and lentils) is that Ashkenazim do not eat them during Pesach but Sephardim have no such prohibition. There are conflicting opinions, however, regarding whether an Ashkenazic Jew may eat non-kitniyot dishes prepared in a Sephardic home, since the cooking vessels would presumably have been used for kitniyot during that season.
Mayim Chayim 2:42
Chick peas are forbidden during Pesach [by some Sephardim]because chick peas in Hebrew are called humus, which is very similar to the word chametz.2
Many Jews avoid processed foods during Passover due to the facilities in which they are manufactured and/or packaged handling leaven. A list of approved processed foods is posted online by the Orthodox Union: https://oukosher.org/passover/.
Once all leaven (by whichever definition one uses) has been removed rom the home, the following declaration is pronounced.
כל-חמירה וכל-חמיעה דאיכהברשותי דחמתיה ודלא חמיתיה, דבערתיה ודלא בערתיה ודלא ידענא ליה, ליבטל ולהוי הפקר כעפרא דארעא.
All leavened matter and all sourdough in my possession which I have or have not seen, which I have or have not removed or of which I have no knowledge shall be considered destroyed and ownerless as the dust of the earth.
כל חמרא דאכה ברשותי די חזיתיה. דלא חזיתיה די בערתיה ודלא בערתיה. להוי בטיל וחשיב כעפרא דארעא.
All leavened matter in my possession which I have or have not seen, which I have or have not removed shall be considered destroyed as the dust of the earth.
מי שאינו מבין לשון ארמית יאמר:
כל חמץ שיש לי בתוך ביתי יהא בטל.
Any person who does not understand Aramaic should say in Hebrew:
All leavened matter that is in my house shall be considered destroyed.
The Festive Meal
The word seder meaning "order" might suggest that there is little or no room for variation, but Judaism is not monolithic, and hasn't been for a great number of centuries. The portion of the seder which enjoys the greatest flexibility is the festive meal.
In most Mizrahi communities, the eggs and meats from the seder plate are distributed to participants just ahead of the meal being served.4
The Centerpiece of the Meal
As a mark of respect for the memory of the temple sacrifices, the eating of a whole roasted lamb on Passover is forbidden by the code of Jewish law called Shulhan Arukh, which was first printed in Venice in 1565.
The traditional centerpiece to the Sephardic Seder is coedero al horno (pan-seared lamb shoulder). It is made clear before it is served that this is not a Paschal Lamb, i.e. the Pesach Qorban which used to be slaughtered on the Temple altar, but rather a memorial representation of that element.
Common Sephardic side dishes include things like eggplant stuffed with rice, kibbeh meatballs dotted with cherries, salads filled with zucchini peels, pizza topped with tamarind, or candied coconut flecked with pistachios.
For most Ashkenazim, the central dish can be nothing but beef brisket. Lamb is generally avoided during Passover.
Common Ashkenazic side dishes include matzo ball soup (for the non-gebrocht), gefiltefish, pickled beets, charoset made with apples, matzo kugel, and flourless chocolate cake.
In some Middle Eastern communities, eggs are very popular on Passover. Kurdish Jews and Libyan Jews, in particular, eat large quantities of eggs at the Seder,5 many serving Shakshuka as the main dish.
Yemenite charoset (called duka) consists of dates and nuts, and the Tunisian version incorporates rose petals and pomegranate arils. Moroccan charoset is formed into balls. Other Mizrahi sides include stuffed artichokes, squash pudding, dafina, sardines, sumac onions, and stuffed grapeleaves.
The Fourth Cup
Among Sephardic communities, there are many who hold the belief that, at minimum, the fourth cup should be Israeli wine, regardless of what one drinks for the other three cups. This is because the 4th cup is followed by the Birkhat Me'ein Shalosh, in which we speak of consuming the fruit of the Promised Land.
Despite the differences between the traditions, the purpose for the celebration is the same for all Jews everywhere, and this is to be our focal point of Passover, which is also called by many "the Chag haHeirut" (Festival of Freedom).
Midrash haChefetz 221b-222a6
The purpose of Pesach (Passover) is to eternalize the miracles of Egypt throughout the ages, because they are indicative of miracles [in general] which [in turn] are an indication of the creation of the world; that is to say, it is created and its Creator is pre-eternal.
לשנה הבאה בירושלים!
Next Year in Jerusalem!
In Morocco, France, Israel, and Canada, Maghrebi Jews enjoy a custom of following the time of unleavened bread with an exuberant celebration of the return to eating chametz with a dinner heavy-laden with rich desserts. The origin of the Mimouna (Heb. מימונה; Arab. ميمونة; Berber ⵎⵉⵎⵓⵏⴰ) seems to be only about two centuries old (ca. mid-18th century). Among the menu items are meringues, marzipan, pistachios, dates, and coconut confections, alongside the first leavened food of the season: moufleta - a pan-cooked cake smeared with butter and honey. On account of the buttery topping of the moufleta, this is strictly a dairy meal - no meat is served. Candied eggplant is a common main dish at Moroccan celebrations. Guests are greeted with a mint sprig dipped in milk, eaten as a symbol of good fortune and new beginnings as Mishlei 3:2-3 is recited as a blessing.8
- Images by Haim Ron from The Passover Haggadah: Legends and Customs (New York, N.Y.: Adama Books, 1987).
- Alfred J. Kolatch, Jewish Book of Why (rev. ed.; Middle Village, N.Y.: Jonathan David Publishers, 1995; orig. 1981), 194.
- Ribbi Yosef Messas, cited in Ilan Acoca, The Sephardic Book of Why: A Guide to Sephardic Jewish Traditions and Customs (Saarbruecken: Hadassa Word Press, 2016), 48.
- The words in italics are exclusive to the Eastern Ashkenaz nusach, omitted in the Western Ashkenaz tradition.
- Heinrich Guggenheimer, The Scholar's Haggadah (Northvale, N.J.: Jason Aronson Inc., 1998; orig. 1995), 76.
- Alfred J. Kolatch, The Jewish Book of Why (rev. ed.; Middle Village, N.Y.: Jonathan David Publishers, 1995; orig. 1981), 202.
- Zekharya haRofe (Yachya ibn Sulayman), Midrash haChefetz (Yemen, 1430); inYitzhak Tzvi Langermann, transl., Yemenite Midrash: Philosophical Commentaries on the Torah (San Francisco, Calif.: HarperCollins, 1996), 91.
- Ilan Acoca, The Sephardic Book of Why: A Guide to Sephardic Jewish Traditions and Customs (Saarbruecken: Hadassa Word Press, 2016), 50.
- More on Mimouna can be found here: https://www.sefaria.org/sheets/398051?lang=bi.