This section is from the book "The Steward's Handbook And Guide To Party Catering", by Jessup Whitehead. Also available from Amazon: Larousse Gastronomique.
While the Jews do not excel in high-class cookery, perhaps on account of their restrictions in regard to materials, what they have is essentially good and of a wholesome character. The religion of the Jews provides that its followers shall observe certain customs, amongst which those relating to foods are particularly stringent and have evidently been drawn up with extreme care. Diseased materials, meals which cannot be easily digested, or which are liable to be diseased, such as veal and pork, are discountenanced. The meat must moreover be thoroughly cleansed, and fish is strongly recommended as an adjunct to a generous feast of vegetables and fruit. At least once a year the subject of Jewish cookery and its peculiar restrictions is brought to the consideration of the stewards or caterers of the generality of hotels on the approach of the Jewish Feast of the Passover, which partakes of the nature of a fast as well as a feast, or a fast before the feast, on account of the restriction in the case of the bread and pastry which may be eaten at that time, and it becomes embarrassing when perhaps a Jewish rabbi and members of his congregation live in the hotel if their particular requirements at that season cannot be provided for want of the requisite knowledge.
Passover-week, the great feast held by the Jews all over the world to commemorate their deliverance from the land of bondage 5,000 years ago, occurs in the spring, near the time of the Christian Easter, generally before it. The law of Moses forbids them to do any servile work during that week. The reform Jews hold high festival only on the first and last days; orthodox Jews observe four days. On the other days servile work may be done; but all Jews must abstain from eating leavened bread. Pastry containing flour is denied them, but they substitute it with potato meal, and they are prohibited from drinking malt liquors or spirits which are made from grain. On the eve of the passover they hold solemn religious services, after this comes the great feast, and such is the lavishness of the Jews at this season they lay their tables with all the delicacies their religion allows them; and all Jews, whether master or servant, rich employer or poor menial, sit at the same table and paitake of the same fare.
This is to remind them that in Egypt they were all slaves and equal.
Among other curious observances one consists in the head of the family having set before him a dish containing a roasted shankbone of a lamb, a large stick of horse-radish with the top on, a bunch of chervil, mustard and cress, a roasted egg, almonds, cinnamon, raisins, smashed up together and pulverized in a species of mortar. This is an important rite. The shank of the lamb symbolizes the Passover lamb; the roasted egg commemorates the festival egg; the bitter herbs recall the bitter lives of the Israelites in Egypt; and the bruised rasins, almonds and wine represent the mortar which their ancestors used in making bricks for the Pharaohs.