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. Those who have sold their chametz for Passover generally purchase it back on this day. In addition to the food traditions, many go the sea and walk barefoot in the water as a remembrance of the miraculous crossing of the Yam Suf, which, according to the tradition, occurred on the 23rd of the month of Nissan. The traditional colors associated with this feast are red and gold.1
The origin of the Mimouna (Heb. מימונה; Arab. ميمونة; Berber ⵎⵉⵎⵓⵏⴰ), a truly interfaith feast-ival, seems to be only about two-and-a-half centuries old (ca. mid-18th century). It has long been customary in Morocco, at the close of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, for Jews to take a basket full of Passover delicacies to a Muslim acquaintance. The basket contained an egg and meat pie (a Jewish delicacy), matzah, and salads. As is typical of the traditional Eastern ceremony of hospitality, the Muslim host received the Jew and served him or her delicacies, especially fruit. The Muslim would also give the Jew a basket which would contain primarily milk, butter, flour, and yeast. As yeast was not generally available in the Jewish community at the end of Passover, this gift made it possible to prepare dough for bread right after the holy days. Neta Elkayam explains, “Moroccan Jewry’s narrative is not one of trauma or persecution. Through our Mimouna, we offer... a non-traumatized Judaism of sunshine, warm desert climates, joie de vivre and cordial relations with our non-Jewish neighbors.”
The name of this unique feast is believed by many to derive from that of Rabbi Maimon ben Yosef, father of the great Rishon-Era Sage Rambam (Maimonides). In Arabic-speaking communities, a second connection to the name is seen, as the Arabic word for wealth or fortune/mazal is ميمون (mimoun), relating to the gold which was given to the fleeing Jews upon their exodus from Egypt. The name could also, possibly, have a connection to the Hebrew word for belief, i.e. emunah (אמונה).2 Another understanding ties mi mouna (my sweet-roll) in the Ladino language common to the Sephardim, many of whom settled Morocco upon their expulsion from Spain in the Inquisition period (1392 to 1492).
It is traditional to greet one another in Judeo-Arabic during this feast. The customary greeting is:
Feel comfortable and eat well! (or "Be prosperous and lucky!")
At the arrival of guests, a mint sprig is dipped in milk and eaten as a symbol of good fortune and new beginnings. We then greet one another on this day with a recitation of Mishlei 3:2-3, pronounced as a blessing.
Adherents also traditionally visit an fruit orchard or vineyard to recite Birkhat ha'Ilanot (Blessing of the Trees).
Baruch atah Hashem Elokeinu melekh haolam
shelo chasar b’olamo klum u’bara bo b’riyot tovot v’elanot tovim l’hanot bahem b’nay adam.
An array of symbolic items adorn the Mimouna table:
- flour (countless blessings)
- silver (luck)
- fish (in remembrance of the parting of the sea)
- dates (fertility)
- honey (happiness)
- jam (sweet life)
- flowers (beauty)
At the center of the table, a large bowl is filled to the brim with flour and five silver pieces. The number five represents the five fingers of the hamsa, said to ward of the evil eye and protect those who put up the symbol in their homes.
Among the traditional 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-parve meal - no meat is served. Candied eggplant is a common main dish at Moroccan celebrations.
The final custom of the day is to perform an abbreviated havdalah, using the wine only - no candle or besamim.
Though there is no specific traditional farewell greeting, the following Judeo-Arabic salutation is not uncommon.
عيد ميمونة سعيد!
May you have a good Mimouna!
- "Une fête peu connue en Europe, La Mimouna". Harissa.com (25 Mar 2013; online: http://www.harissa.com/news/article/une-f%C3%AAte-peu-connue-en-europe-la-mimouna).
- Ilan Acoca, The Sephardic Book of Why: A Guide to Sephardic Jewish Traditions and Customs (Saarbruecken: Hadassa Word Press, 2016), 49-50.