The Passover ritual is remarkably homogeneous, and a Jew from Kiev would find himself surprisingly at home at a Seder in Casablanca. All Jews, no matter where we are from, fulfill the same Passover mitzvahs:

  • We carefully purge our homes of chametz—anything that contains grain that has risen.
  • We eat matzah (ideally the round, handmade shmurah variety), recalling how hurriedly we left Egypt and drink four cups of wine to celebrate our freedom.
  • Our children ask the Four Questions, and we respond by telling the story of the Exodus as recorded in the Haggadah
  • We eat bitter herbs, recalling the suffering of slavery.
  • We all follow the text of the Seder, which has changed little since the Talmudic era when it was first formulated.

Yet, as our people spread all over the globe, beautiful and unique customs and traditions developed. Here is a sampling of some of the traditions from various Sephardic communities, who lived and flourished in southeastern Europe, North Africa, and Muslim Asia for centuries.

Note that if you are considering adopting any custom other than yours, be sure to consult your rabbi.

1. Avoiding Beans and Rice

While it is well known that Ashkenazim universally avoid eating beans, legumes, corn and rice on Passover (this class of food is called kitniyot), not everyone knows that many Sephardic communities keep (some or all of) this custom as well. For example, Moroccans do not eat rice but do eat beans. Conversely, some Bukharian Jews do eat rice but do not eat beans or peas.

Read: Why So Many Jews Don’t Eat Beans and Rice on Passover

2. Eating Soft, Chewy Matzah

Soft matzah baked in the UK (Image: Mashiach Kelaty)
Soft matzah baked in the UK (Image: Mashiach Kelaty)

It’s fascinating to note that some Sephardic communities still bake soft matzah, which is significantly thicker than the crackerlike variety that has become virtually universal in recent centuries.

Read: Was Matza Always Hard and Thin?

3. Dipping in Lemon Juice

The most common custom these days is to dip the vegetable (karpas) in saltwater. However, some Jews, such as those from Kurdistan, traditionally dip it into sour lemon juice instead!

Read: Why Do We Dip at the Seder?

4. Passing the Afikomen

Among the Jews of the Holy Land, there is a custom to take the afikomen and wrap it in a white cloth. This is placed on the right shoulder and transferred to the left shoulder. It is thus passed around the table from one to the next, with the last one to receive it reciting the verse: “Their kneading trays were bound in cloths on their shoulders.”

That person then takes four paces and is asked: “Where have you come from?” to which they respond: “From Egypt.”
“And where are you going?”
“To Jerusalem.”

Then all raise their voices and declare together: “Next year in Jerusalem!”

Read: Why Do Some People Hide the Afikomen?

5. Asking the Four Questions in Arabic

There’s no getting around the fact that the Seder is essentially a conversation, with the children asking questions and the Seder leader providing the answers—which is why many people say (parts of) the Seder in Arabic, Ladino, Farsi, or even English. So if you’d been a Jewish child in Yemen or Syria a generation or two ago, in all likelihood you would have learned to say the Four Questions in Judeo-Arabic.

Read: The Four Questions in Nine Languages

6. Waving the Seder Plate

Those using the Haggadah as recorded by Maimonides begin with the words, Bibhilu yatzanu miMitzayim, “We left Egypt in a great hurry.” Many Moroccans have the custom of saying these words again and again, each time waving the Seder plate over the head of another person at the Seder. Only after everyone has had the Seder plate waved over their heads, do they continue with Hay lachma anya, “This is the bread of suffering … ”

Read: The Passover Seder Plate

7. Having the Kids Symbolically Leave Egypt

Many have the custom to give each child a bundle of matzah to drape over their shoulders and then take part in the following exchange (in Arabic):

Where are you from?

From Egypt

Where are you going?

To Jerusalem!

What do you carry?

Matzah and maror!

Read: 14 Facts About Syrian Jews

8. Watch Out for Those Scallions!

Among many Persian Jews, a favorite part of the Seder is playfully whipping each other with scallions. Why? To remember how the Jews were beaten by their Egyptian masters. Plus, it’s a great way to keep the kids awake and involved!

Read: 10 Facts About Persian Jews

9. Smearing the Charoset on the Doorpost

Among some Moroccan Jews, it is customary to take some of the charoset left over after the Seder and smear it on the doorpost. It has been postulated that this is to recall the smearing of the blood on the Jewish doorposts back on the night of the Exodus (the very first Seder), as well as in anticipation of the Messianic era when, (according to the Book of Ezekiel,) sacrificial blood will be smeared on the doorway of the Holy Temple.1

Read: 19 Facts About Moroccan Jews

10. Announcing Moshiach to the Neighbors

If you were from Djerba, you may be accustomed to having one of your neighbors walk through the neighborhood with the afikomen tied up on his back, calling out, “Moshiach, son of David, is on his way!”

May it happen soon!

Read: 15 Moshiach Facts

11. Gathering for Mimouna After Passover

After Passover concludes, Moroccan Jews hold a special celebration called mimouna. People visit each other’s homes to enjoy elaborately set tables, especially a crepe called moufleta.

The word mimouna means “luck.” On Passover, many people do not eat at each other’s homes since not everyone has the same standards. The post-Passover socialization demonstrates that there are no hard feelings.