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Notes from Limmud 2009

The Seder: A Response to Crisis

Dr Joshua Kulp

Author of a detailed commentary on the origin and development of the Haggadah and its customs, in the Schechter Haggadah.

[Standard disclaimer: All views not in square brackets are those of the speaker, not myself. Accuracy of transcription is not guaranteed. This post is formatted for LiveJournal; if you are reading it on Facebook click on "View original post" for optimal layout.]

The Seder is probably the most custom-rich observance in the Jewish calendar... but it is the speaker's contention that there was no such thing as a seder or a haggadah during the Second Temple period.

Seder means order; it referred to an ordered meal centred around certain rituals: a precise ordering of the food, blessings (in the Jewish practice, corresponding to libations for the Greeks in their symposia), reclining, handwashing prescribed at various times. It also usually included discussion—in the Jews' case, the Haggadah, a discussion of the Exodus from Egypt.

In the speaker's opinion in Temple times you did neither of these things on the first night of Pesaḥ. You ate a meal: a סְעוּדָה. If you lived close enough to Jerusalem you came to Jerusalem, sacrificed your paschal lamb, gathered with a group of people and ate your lamb within a certain distance from the Temple, and that was it. They may have discussed these topics; there's no way of knowing as there's no texts saying so. (We don't know what Jews not within reach of Jerusalem did.) At most we get praises of G-d.

In the Bible, in Exodus 12, there are a few descriptions of how the Pesaḥ meal goes. There are a few Second Temple period texts which describe this, including the Book of Jubilees, a retelling of Genesis, written in about the third century BCE, putting in later material into the story, and preserved mostly by the Ethiopian Church. Partial copies were found, in Hebrew, amongst the Dead Sea Scrolls. Jubilees 49:1–9:

And all Israel was eating the flesh of the paschal lamb, and drinking the wine, and was lauding, and blessing, and giving thanks to the Lord G-d of their fathers, and was ready to go gorth from under the yoke of Egypt, and from the evil bondage... And the man who... does not come to observe it on occasion of its day, so as to bring an acceptable offering before the Lord, and to eat and drink before the Lord on the day of its festival... he shall take the guilt upon himself.

So, what proto-Seder elements have arisen by then? Drinking of wine, yes. Four cups aren't mentioned, though. It's not unusual to drink wine in the ancient world; were these ritual cups? We don't know. The speaker doesn't know whether this is a kiddush or not. (Kiddush is universal in rabbinic texts, but not mentioned by earlier texts.)

What's the lauding and blessing? It's very possible that this is Hallel. This appears in pre-Destruction descriptions of the Seder. We tend to de-emphasise this nowadays: we have Hallel elsewhere in the year; it's [mostly] after the meal. But it's very prominent in the earlier descriptions, in the Mishna and elsewhere, including the Gospels. The problem of using the Gospels as historical evidence, however, is the same as that with the Mishna: It's describing a pre-Destruction scenario, but written post-Destruction.

Josephus, writing around the time of the Destruction, writes (Wars 6:423-424):

Accordingly, on the occasion of the feast called Passover, at which they sacrifice from the ninth to the eleventh hour, and a little fraternity,* as it were, gathers around each sacrifice, of not fewer than ten persons (feasting alone not being permitted), while the companies often include as many as twenty, the sacrifices were counted and amounted to two hundred thousand and fifty-five thousand six hundred; allowing an average of ten diners to each sacrifice, we obtain a total of two million, seven hundred thousand, all pure and holy.

* Probably rendering "חבורה".

Even if he's off by 99%, this is still an impressive spectacle.

The Mishna

It's always dangerous to use the Mishna to reconstruct what happened 170 years before it was written down. But it does give some idea.

The pesach is slaughtered in three divisions... The first division entered, the Temple court was filled, and they closed the doors of the Temple court. They sounded a tekiah, a teruah and a tekiah. The priests stood in rows, and in their hands were basins of silver and basins of gold...

An Israelite slaughters [the lamb] and a priest catches [the blood]...

The first division [then] went out and the second entered; the second went out and the third entered. As did the first, so did the second and the third. They recited the Hallel. If they finished it, they repeated, and if they repeated [and were not finished yet], they recited it a third time, though they never did recite it a third time...

The first division went out and sat down on the Temple mount, and second [sat] in the ḥel, while the third remained in its place. When it grew dark they went out and roasted their pesach lambs.

הפסח נשחט בשלש כתות, שנאמר (שמות יב) ושחטו אותו כל קהל עדת ישראל, קהל ועדה וישראל׃ נכנסה כת הראשונה, נתמלאת העזרה, נעלו דלתות העזרה׃ תקעו והריעו ותקעו׃ ...

שחט ישראל וקבל הכהן ...

יצתה כת ראשונה ונכנסה כת שניה׃ יצתה שניה, נכנסה שלישית׃ כמעשה הראשונה כך מעשה השניה והשלישית׃ קראו את ההלל׃ אם גמרו שנו, ואם שנו שלשו, אף על פי שלא שלשו מימיהם׃

יצתה כת ראשונה וישבה לה בהר הבית, שניה בחיל, והשלישית במקומה עומדת׃ חשכה, יצאו וצלו את פסחיהן׃

Again we see Hallel being prominent while the paschal offering is slaughtered (and whilst its eaten too).

After the Destruction of the Temple

Post Destruction, a Jewish group had to come up with some solution for what to do with Pesaḥ. Any Jewish group which did not has not survived to this day (e.g. Sadducees, Boethusians, Essenes, etc). What to do without the Temple, without sacrifices, etc? Among the sacrifices, the most important issue to replace was Pesaḥ. The two most important groups who succeeded at this are the rabbis and the Christians.

We don't know how the Jews functioned in 71/2; but from the following centuries' texts we can see between the cracks various attempts to deal, some of which worked, and some of which did not. (We can use this to compare to today, which is also a generation of transition, dealing with the Holocaust).

Continuing to Eat a Roasted Lamb

The first attempt was to simply do in the home what they did in the Temple, cooking a roasted lamb at home. Tosefta Yom Tov 2:15, p.291:

What is a mekulas lamb? Fully roasted, its head, its legs and its innards...

They make make a mekulas lamb on the first day of Succos, and on the last day of Pesaḥ, and a mekulas calf on the first day of Pesaḥ but not a mekulas lamb.1

R. Yose said: Todos, a man of Rome, taught the people of Rome to take lambs on the eve of Pesaḥ and prepare them in the mekulas fashion. They said to him: he is close to feeding people sacrifices outside [the Temple], because they call them פְּסָחִים.

1. Because this is too reminiscent of what they did in the Temple.

It's unclear whether Todos is doing this during the Second Temple period, and simply couldn't get to Rome, or was doing so after the Destruction. Regardless, the author of this passage was not at all happy with what he did.

Pesaḥim 7:2 פסחים ז ב
They do not roast the pesach on a spit or a grill. R. Zadok said: It happened that Rabban Gamliel said to his slave Tabbi, "Go out and roast for us the pesach on a grill." אין צולין את הפסח לא על השפוד ולא על האסכלא׃ אמר רבי צדוק מעשה ברבן גמליאל שאמר לטבי עבדו צא וצלה לנו את הפסח על האסכלא׃

This also is close to sacrificing a paschal lamb; but Rabban Gamliel lost out, historically, on this argument. Why so? Firstly, it's saying we neither need nor want the Temple back. It might have struck people as not genuine. Pesaḥ without the Temple is not, and should not be, Pesaḥ as it used to be.

(Now there were definitely Jews offering sacrifices outside the Temple in Jerusalem (e.g. the temple in Leontopolis), but the rabbis frowned on it. And we don't know what they did at Pesaḥ.

Study the Laws of Pesaḥ

We can't eat the Pesaḥ sacrifice now, so what do we do instead? We talk about doing it. We see this in the morning prayers every day. Tosefta Pesaḥim talks about what the rabbis were doing on Pesaḥ. Chapter 10, halacha 12:

It happened that Rabban Gamliel and the elders were reclining in the house of Bitos b. Zunin in Lod and they were engaging themselves in the study of the laws of Pesaḥ all night until the cock crowed. They removed [the tables] from them and they got up and went to the Beit Midrash.

What is the study of the laws of Pesaḥ? It means the paschal lamb, not the holiday: How to sacrifice it, how to skin it, what to do with it.

This alternative also did not make it as the most prominent feature of the post-Destruction seder. Why so? This is because laws are technical; they're not easy subjects to learn. They're not suitable for children—many early texts of the Seder talk about the importance of teaching your children, which goes back to the Torah. But it does reflect the importance of learning, which has survived to this day.

Spiritualise existing food and add supplemental foods

The Pesaḥ is a spiritual food; it's not just supposed to fill your stomach; it's supposed to remind you of the exodus from Egypt.

Rabban Gamliel used to say: Whoever does not make mention of these three things on Pesaḥ does not fulfil his duty: the pesach, matzah and bitter herbs. The pesach because G-d passed over the houses of our ancestors in Egypt. The matzah because they were redeemed. The bitter herbs because the Egyptians embittered the lives of our ancestors in Egypt. רבן גמליאל היה אומר, כל שלא אמר שלשה דברים אלו בפסח, לא יצא ידי חובתו, ואלו הן, פסח, מצה, ומרור׃ פסח, על שום שפסח המקום על בתי אבותינו במצרים׃ מצה, על שום שנגאלו אבותינו ממצרים׃ מרור, על שום שמררו המצרים את חיי אבותינו במצרים׃

Note: The connection of the maror is not mentioned in the Torah. Some people said we do this because that's what nomads did to spice up their meat. But we've added meaning to it.

Charoseth is also added. It was probably originally a common Greek dish; it was probably added in the late first century/early second century, and by the Talmudic period it became spiritualised:

Tosefta Pesaḥim, Ch. Ten, Halachos 9-10:

The matzah, the lettuce and the charoseth, even though the charoseth is not a mitzvah. R. Lazar b. R. Zadok says: it is a mitzvah. In the Temple they bring in front of him the Pesaḥ. It happened that R. Lazar bar Zadok said to the merchants of Lod, "come and take for yourselves the mandated spices."

The same thing happens with the extra meat: Talmud Yerushalmi, Pesaḥim 10:3, 37d:

It was taught: In the provinces [outside of Jerusalem] they need two cooked dishes, one in remembrance of the pesaḥ and one in remembrance of the ḥagigah. </table>

Two cooked dishes, rather than just meat to eat, are brought because we want to remember the two sacrifices that were brought on Pesaḥ.

The Jews were not the only ones to spiritualise their food in this way; the Christians did also. (Their theologians put lots of time into trying to figure out which seder cup it was Jesus was drinking at the Last Supper; but it's a ludicrous question: there's no way we can know that now.)

Rabban Gamliel is often compared to Jesus in terms of saying what we have to say whilst eating these ritual foods. But Jesus said to eat wine and matzah, Rabban Gamliel Pesaḥ, matzah and maror. So there are similarities [between the Last Supper and the seder ritual], but Jesus was probably not having a seder. But by replicating his actions and finding meanings in them, the Christians were doing the same thing we did.

The Graeco-Roman Symposium (a Seder)

Was this copying the Greeks? No, it just meant having a proper meal the way people did it in those days. It wouldn't have struck rabbis as being a goyishe way to eat, no more than eating with a fork does today because forks aren't mentioned in the Torah! They just started celebrating a formal meal in the way that people do.

Mishnah Pesaḥim 10

...Even the poorest person in Israel must not eat [on the night of Pesaḥ] until he reclines. And they should give him not less than four cups [of wine].
They mixed him the first cup...
They bring [it] in front of him. He dips lettuce before until he reaches the appetiser that precedes the bread.
They bring before him matzah, lettuce and ḥaroseth...
They mixed him a second cup...
They mixed him a third cup, he blesses over his meal.
A fourth [cup], he concludes the Hallel, and recites over it the blessing of song.

This formality is very reminiscent of the Greek symposium, but with certain differences. For example, there was no flute girl; and everyone gets to participate, even poor people and children. (In the earliest versions, women did not recline or drink the wine, though by the third century they did.)

The number of cups probably arose because four cups was a suitable minimum number to give to a poor person. All texts are adamant that poor people should be invited. There's no parallel to it in other religions. There are meanings that were later given to it, but those are post-facto.

Formal discussion

Mishnah Pesaḥim 10:5:

And here the son asks his father. If the son lacks the intelligence to ask, his father instructs him: How different this night is from all other nights!.... He begins with shame and concludes with praise; and they expound from אַרַמִי אוֹבֵד אָבִי (Deut. 6:20–25).

Some Christian responses to the loss of the Pesaḥ sacrifice

For the Christians, Jesus becomes in essence a replacement for the Pesaḥ sacrifice. Mark 14:12-24:

On the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, when it was customary to sacrifice the Passover lamb, Jesus' disciples asked him, "Where do you want us to go and make preparations for you to eat the pesaḥ?"...

The disciples left, went into the city and found things just as Jesus had told them. So they prepared the pesaḥ.

When evening came, Jesus arrived with the twelve.... While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, "Take it; this is my body."

Then he took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, and they all drank from it. "This is my blood of the [new] covenant, which is poured out for many," he said to them.

The whole concept of Jesus as the Pesaḥ does not occur in the Gospels, but is there by 1 Corinthians 5:7-8:

Don’t you know that a little yeast leavens the whole batch of dough? Clean out the old yeast so that you may be a new batch of dough—you are, in fact, without yeast. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. So then, let us celebrate the festival, not with the old yeast, the yeast of vice and evil, but with the bread without yeast, the bread of sincerity and truth.

Christians are much more prominent about the replacement; Jews glance over it. Melito of Sardis (second century CE), Peri Pascha:

Once, the slaying of the sheep was precious, but it is worthless now because of the life of the Lord; the death of the sheep was precious, but it is worthless now because of salvation of the Lord; the blood of the sheep was precious, but it is worthless now because of the Spirit of the Lord; a speechless lamb was precious, but it is worthless now because of the spotless Son; the temple below was precious, but it is worthless now because of the Christ above.

You have now heard the account of the model and what corresponds to it; listen also to the constitution of the mystery. What is the Pascha? It gets its name from its characteristic: from suffer (pathein) comes suffering (paschein). Learn therefore who is the suffering one, and who shares the suffering of the suffering one, and why the Lord is present on the earth to clothe himself with the suffering one, and carry him off to the heights of heaven.

Very early the Christians were preaching supersessionist theology.

Justin Martyr finds a lot of parallels:

The mystery, then, of the lamb which God offered you to sacrifice as the Passover, was a type of Christ; with whose blood, in proportion to their faith in Him, they anoint their houses, i.e. themselves... In the following fashion I can show that God's precept concerned the paschal lamb was only temporary. God does not allow the paschal lamb to be sacrificed in any other place than where His name is invoked (that is, in the Temple at Jerusalem), for He knew that there would come a time, after Christ's passion, when the place in Jerusalem (where you sacrificed the paschal lamb) would be taken from you by your enemies, and then all sacrifices would be stopped. Moreover, that lamb which you were ordered to roast whole was a symbol of Christ's suffering on the Cross. Indeed, the lamb, while being roasted, resembles the figure of the cross, for one spit transfixes it horizontally from the lower parts up to the head, and another pierces it across the back, and holds up its forelegs.

There are rabbinic descriptions of the paschal lamb being roasted as Justin describes.

Justin must have thought Trypho (R. Tarfon) wouldn't have any answer to his argument.

Jewish learning notes index

Date: 2010-03-24 03:01 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] curious-reader.livejournal.com
I read some years ago that our actual Haggadah and Seder night was invented much later. It was just prayers to Maimonides times. I cannot remember when it said when the seder was done the way we do it now.

Date: 2010-03-24 05:40 pm (UTC)
liv: In English: My fandom is text obsessed / In Hebrew: These are the words (words)
From: [personal profile] liv
Good stuff! I went to a fascinating talk at Limmud a few years back where we looked at the Tosefta on how the Seder works, and R' Hauptmann made a fairly convincing argument as to why this section of Tosefta probably pre-dates the official Mishnah.


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