Practice of Passover sacrifice by Temple Mount activists in Jerusalem, 2012.
Practice of Passover sacrifice by Temple Mount activists in Jerusalem, 2012.

The Passover sacrifice (Hebrew: קרבן פסח, romanizedQorban Pesaḥ), also known as the Paschal lamb or the Passover lamb, is the sacrifice that the Torah mandates the Israelites to ritually slaughter on the evening of Passover, and eat on the first night of the holiday with bitter herbs and matzo. According to the Torah, it was first offered on the night of the Exodus from Egypt. Although practiced by Jews in ancient times, the sacrifice is today only part of Beta Israel, Karaite and Samaritan observance.

In the Torah

In the Torah, the blood of this sacrifice painted on the door-posts of the Israelites was to be a sign to God, when passing through the land to slay the first-born of the Egyptians that night, that he should pass by the houses of the Israelites (Exodus 12:1–28). In the Mishnah this is called the "Passover of Egypt" (Pesaḥ Miẓrayim in M.Pesach ix. 5). It was further ordained (Exodus 12:24-27) that this observance should be repeated annually for all time once the Israelites entered into their promised land. Exodus 12:25 "It will come to pass when you come to the land which the Lord will give you, just as He promised, that you shall keep this service (NKJV). This so-called "Pesaḥ Dorot," the Passover of succeeding generations (Mishnah Pesach l.c.), differs in many respects from the Passover of Egypt (Pesaḥ Miẓrayim). In the pre-exilic period, however, Passover was rarely sacrificed in accordance with the legal prescriptions (comp. II Chron. xxxv. 18).

The Lord spoke to Moses in the wilderness of Sinai, on the first new moon of the second year following the exodus from the land of Egypt, saying: Let the Israelite people offer the passover sacrifice at its set time: you shall offer it on the fourteenth day of this month, at twilight, at its set time; you shall offer it in accordance with all its rites and rules

— Num. 9:1–3, JPS translation

Rabbinical interpretation

According to Rashi, on Numbers 9:1, only once during their forty years of wandering in the wilderness, one year after the Exodus, was the sacrifice offered. For the next 39 years there was no offering, according to Rashi, as God stipulated that it could only be offered after the Children of Israel had entered the Land of Israel. In fact, the bringing of the Passover sacrifice resumed only after the Israelites had taken possession of the land, and then the sacrifice was made annually until during the times when Solomon's Temple and the Second Temple stood and functioned. During this time there was a definite ritual for the offering, in addition to the regulations prescribed by the Law. The following is a brief summary of the principal ordinances and of the ritual accompanying the sacrifice:

The sacrificial animal

The sacrificial animal, which was either a lamb or goat, had to be a male, one year old, and without blemish. Each family or society offered one animal together, which did not require the semikah (laying on of hands), although it was obligatory to determine who were to take part in the sacrifice that the slaughtering might take place with the proper intentions. Only those who were circumcised and clean before the Law might participate, and they were forbidden to have leavened food in their possession during the act of slaughtering the Passover lamb. The animal was slain on the eve of the Passover, on the afternoon of the 14th of Nisan,[1] after the Tamid sacrifice had been slaughtered, i.e., at three o'clock, or, in case the eve of the Passover fell on Friday, at two.[2]

The slaughtering took place in the courtyard of the Temple at Jerusalem. The slaughter could be performed by a layman, although the rituals dealing with the blood and fat had to be carried out by a priest.[2][3] The blood had to be collected by a priest, and rows of priests with gold or silver cups in their hands stood in line from the Temple court to the altar, where the blood was sprinkled. These cups were rounded on the bottom so that they could not be set down, because the blood might thus coagulate. The priest who caught the blood as it dropped from the sacrificial animal then handed the cup to the priest next to him, receiving from him an empty one, and the full cup was passed along the line until it reached the last priest, who sprinkled its contents on the altar. The lamb was then hung upon special hooks or sticks and skinned; but if the eve of the Passover fell on a Sabbath, the skin was removed down to the breast only. The abdomen was then cut open, and the fatty portions intended for the altar were taken out, placed in a vessel, salted, and offered by the priest on the altar, while the remaining entrails likewise were taken out and cleansed.[2]

While most services require a minyan of at least ten people, the Korban Pesach must be offered before a quorum of thirty—it must be performed in front of kahal adat yisrael, the assembly of the congregation of Israel; ten are needed for the assembly, ten for the congregation, and ten for Israel. According to some Talmudic authorities, such as Rav Kahana IV, women counted in the minyan for offering the passover sacrifice (B.Pesachim 79b).

Timing: Passover Eve on the Sabbath

Even if the eve of the Passover fell on a Sabbath, the Passover lamb was killed in the manner described above, the blood was sprinkled on the altar, the entrails removed and cleansed, and the fat offered on the altar; these four ceremonies in the case of the Passover lamb were alone exempt from the prohibition against working on the Sabbath. This regulation, that the Sabbath yielded the precedence to the Passover, was not definitely determined until the time of Hillel, who established it as a law and was in return elevated to the dignity of nasi by Judah ben Bathyra.(B.Pesachim 68a).

The three groups of lay people

The people taking part in the sacrifice were divided into three groups. The first of these filled the court of the Temple, so that the gates had to be closed, and while they were killing and offering their Passover lambs the Levites on the platform (dukhan) recited the Hallel (Psalms 113-118), accompanied by instruments of brass. If the Levites finished their recitation before the priests had completed the sacrifice, they repeated the Hallel, although it never happened that they had to repeat it twice. As soon as the first group had offered their sacrifice, the gates were opened to let them out, and their places were taken by the second and third groups successively.

All three groups offered their sacrifice in the manner described, while the Hallel was recited; but the third group was so small that it had always finished before the Levites reached Psalm 116. It was called the "group of the lazy" because it came last. Even if the majority of the people were ritually unclean on the eve of the Passover, the sacrifice was offered on the 14th of Nisan. Other sacrifices, on the contrary, called Hagigah, which were offered together with the Passover lamb, were omitted if the eve of the Passover fell on a Sabbath, or if the sacrifice was offered in a state of uncleanness, or if the number of participants was so small that they could not consume all the meat. When the sacrifice was completed and the animal was ready for roasting, each one present carried his lamb home, except when the eve of the Passover fell on a Sabbath, in which case it might not be taken away.[2]

The Home Ceremony

If the 14th of Nissan fell on the Sabbath, the first group stationed itself on the mount of the Temple in Jerusalem, the second group in the ḥel, the space between the Temple wall and the Temple hall, while the third group remained in the Temple court, thus awaiting the evening, when they took their lambs home and roasted them on a spit of pomegranate-wood, On all other days, they could do it before nightfall (and if the 15th of Nissan fell to be on the Sabbath they would have to). No bones might be broken either during the cooking or during the eating. The lamb was set on the table at the evening banquet (see Passover Seder), and was eaten by the assembled company after all had satisfied their appetites with the ḥagigah or other food. The sacrifice had to be consumed entirely that same evening, nothing being allowed to remain overnight. While eating it, the entire company of those who partook was obliged to remain together, and every participant had to take a piece of the lamb at least as large as an olive. Women and girls also might take part in the banquet and eat of the sacrifice. The following benediction was pronounced before eating the lamb: "Blessed be Thou, the Eternal, our God, the King of the world, who hast sanctified us by Thy commands, and hast ordained that we should eat the Passover." The Hallel was recited during the meal, and when the lamb had been eaten the meaning of the custom was explained, and the story of the Exodus was told.[2]

The Passover sacrifice belongs to the category of zevachim that are eaten by the owner (similar to shelamim), thus forming one of the sacrifices in which the meal is the principal part and indicates the community between God and man. It is really a house or family sacrifice, and each household is regarded as constituting a small community in itself, not only because the lamb is eaten at home, but also because every member of the family is obliged to partake of the meal, although each male must be circumcised in order for it to be permissible for him to eat, and all must be ritually pure. The fact that the Passover lamb might be killed only at the central sanctuary of Jerusalem, on the other hand, implies that each household was but a member of the larger community; this is indicated also by the national character of the sacrifice, which kept alive in the memory of the nation the preservation and liberation of the entire people.[2]

Modern attempts to revive the sacrifice

In 2007, a group of rabbis led by Adin Steinsalz and supported by the Temple Mount Faithful and the New Sanhedrin Council identified a Kohen who was a butcher, made plans for conducting a Passover sacrifice on the Temple Mount, and petitioned the Israeli High Court of Justice for permission. The Court sided with the government and rejected the request, holding that such an event would inflame religious tensions and would threaten security. The incident was a successor to a series of earlier attempts by various groups to perform such a sacrifice, either openly or by subterfuge.[4][5]

In 2008, animal rights group Tnoo Lachayot Lichyot ("Let the Animals Live") sued the Temple Institute, claiming its conduct of a practice Passover sacrifice demonstration would constitute animal cruelty. An Israeli court rejected the claim.[6]

In 2016, Jewish activists pushing for a third temple in Jerusalem attempted to ascend the Temple Mount carrying baby goats intended to be used as Passover sacrifices on Friday afternoon, as they do every year. Jerusalem police detained ten suspects in the Old City for interrogation, and seized four sacrificial goat kids. Among those arrested were Kach activist Noam Federman, who attempts to make the sacrifice every year, and Rafael Morris, an activist in the Temple Mount Faithful movement.[citation needed]

The annual attempt to ascend the Temple Mount to perform the sacrifice in 2022 spawned widespread rumors of Jewish extremists supposedly planning to enter the Al-Aqsa Compound, inciting a riot which ultimately led to the 2022 Al-Aqsa Mosque storming.[7]

In other traditions

In Christianity, the sacrifice of the Passover lamb is considered to be fulfilled by the crucifixion and death of Jesus, who is consequently also given the title Lamb of God.[8][9]

See also


 This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainSinger, Isidore; et al., eds. (1901–1906). "Passover Sacrifice". The Jewish Encyclopedia. New York: Funk & Wagnalls.

  1. ^ Leviticus 23
  2. ^ a b c d e f  This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainExecutive Committee of the Editorial Board, Jacob Zallel Lauterbach (1901–1906). "Passover Sacrifice". In Singer, Isidore; et al. (eds.). The Jewish Encyclopedia. New York: Funk & Wagnalls.
  3. ^ Hayward, Robert (2006). "Priesthood, Temple(s), and Sacrifice". In Rogerson, J. W.; Lieu, Judith M. (eds.). The Oxford Handbook of Biblical Studies. Oxford University Press. p. 341. ISBN 978-0-19-925425-5. non-priests were able to slaughter their Passover sacrifices (though not manipulate the blood and fat) until the very last days of the Temple (Philo, QE 1: 10) (alt. link to chapter)
  4. ^ Shargai, Nadav; Barkat, Amiram (2007-02-04), "Court prevents groups from sacrificing live animals at Temple Mount", Haaretz, retrieved 2008-10-07
  5. ^ "Rabbis aim to renew animal sacrifices", Jerusalem Post, 2007-02-28, archived from the original on 2012-01-11, retrieved 2008-10-07
  6. ^ Judge Rules Paschal Sacrifice Practice 'Proper,' Appeal Filed, Israeli National News, 2008-04-08, retrieved 2008-10-07
  7. ^ Kingsley, Patrick; Abdulrahim, Raja (2022-04-15). "Clashes Erupt at Jerusalem Holy Site on Day With Overlapping Holidays". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2022-04-16.
  8. ^ Karl Gerlach (1998). The Antenicene Pascha: A Rhetorical History. Peeters Publishers. p. 21. ISBN 9789042905702. Long before this controversy, Ex 12 as a story of origins and its ritual expression had been firmly fixed in the Christian imagination. Though before the final decades of the second century only accessible as an exegetical tradition, already in the Paulin letters the Exodus saga is deeply involved with the celebration of bath and meal. Even here, this relationship does not suddenly appear, but represents developments in ritual narrative that mus have begun at the very inception of the Christian message. Jesus of Nazareth was crucifed during Pesach-Mazzot, an event that a new covenant people of Jews and Gentiles both saw as definitive and defining. Ex 12 is thus one of the few reliable guides for tracing the synergism among ritual, text, and kerygma before the Council of Nicaea.
  9. ^ Matthias Reinhard Hoffmann (2005). The Destroyer and the Lamb: The Relationship Between Angelomorphic and Lamb Christology in the Book of Revelation. Mohr Siebeck. p. 117. ISBN 3161487788. 1.2.2. Christ as the Passover Lamb from Exodus A number of features throughout Revelation seem to correspond to Exodus 12: The connection of Lamb and Passover, a salvific effect of the Lamb's blood and the punishment of God's (and His people's) opponents from Exodus 12 may possibly be reflected within the settings of the Apocalypse. The concept of Christ as a Passover lamb is generally not unknown in NT or early Christian literature, as can for instance be seen in 1 Corinthians 5:7, 1 Peter 1:19 or Justin Martyr's writing (Dial. 111:3). In the Gospel of John, especially, this connection between Christ and Passover is made very explicit.