Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility Skip to content

What Have We Lost?

The date is Nisan 71 CE. You are one of the lucky survivors of the Great Revolt and the horrific destruction that came in its wake. And yet, you don鈥檛 feel very lucky. How can it be possible to celebrate Pesach this year? Pesach鈥檚 essence, as we have been discussing for many, many pages already, is the Passover sacrifice offered in the Temple. The whole holiday revolves around it 鈥 getting to Jerusalem, making sure you are part of a group, offering the sacrifice, and then eating it together with your family while reciting Hallel that 鈥渞aised the roof.鈥 What kind of Pesach can there be without a Temple?

Ariely, CC BY 3.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons

This was the tragic circumstance that the rabbis of Yavneh had to deal with in those first years after the Temple was destroyed in the year 70. A Pesach without a sacrifice must have been inconceivable to most people. Perhaps there was a danger of losing the celebration altogether. The rabbis bravely came together and took what could be salvaged: the commandments to eat matzah and maror, to tell the story and to sing the Hallel 鈥 and created a new 鈥渟eder,鈥 an order for the evening. This seder, as we have seen, took elements from the Greek/Roman symposium but imbued them with deep Jewish symbolism and content.

Gilabrand, CC BY-SA 3.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons

The focus was on education. The children needed to be kept awake and asking questions. It seems unlikely that even the most apathetic children needed to be prodded awake on Pesach night in the time of the Temple. There was so much to see and notice! Who needs a 鈥渕ah nishtana鈥 when everything is different from the familiar. But in the house, things had to be changed from the normal 鈥渂oring鈥 holiday celebration so that they would ask questions.

The seder, which is laid out here in our tenth chapter of Pesachim, is well planned, with breaks for drinking, eating, teaching and praising. The rabbis mentioned in this chapter: Rabban Gamliel, Rabbi Akiva, Rabbi Tarfon, Rabbi Eliezer ben Zadok 鈥 are almost all from the generation of Yavneh, the site of the Sanhedrin right after the destruction of the Temple. However, even with the best efforts of the rabbis to create an 鈥渁lternate鈥 Pesach celebration, the loss of the Temple was felt keenly. One way to ease that loss was to eat a meal similar to what was eaten in the Temple. The Mishnah in tells us:

鈥淚n a place where people were accustomed to eat roasted meat on Passover evenings, one may eat it. In a place where people were accustomed not to eat, one may not eat it.鈥 (Mishnah Pesachim 4:4)

The Mishnah is talking about the era after the Temple has been destroyed. Could one eat roasted meat, like what was eaten in the Temple, in his own house? Today most communities do not do this but the Mishnah is familiar with a situation where people did eat roasted meat, in memory of the sacrifice. In fact, as great a leader as Rabban Gamliel did so, against the majority opinion, after the Temple was destroyed. (Betzah 2:7) What is the problem that the rabbis have with such a custom? While on the one hand it seems like a beautiful way to perpetuate the tradition of the Temple, it also looks like we are making a sacrifice outside the Temple, something that is forbidden.

A similar problem arose during Temple times. We have testimony that Todos, a resident of Rome, roasted a goat and told the other Roman Jews to do so as well (Pesachim 53). The rabbis got angry with him because it looked like a sacrifice outside the Temple. Here the situation is that the Temple is standing, however these Jews are far away. To assuage their loneliness at not being able to be in Jerusalem, they ate a 鈥淭emple-like鈥 meal.

According to Zeev and Shmuel Safrai, this custom of eating roasted meat persisted in the land of Israel for many generations after the Temple was destroyed. Their evidence is haggadot from the Cairo Genizah that include the question in the mah nishtanah about how we eat all roasted meat tonight, a question we no longer ask. One haggadah even had a blessing that said blessed are you God Who commanded us to eat matzah, maror and roasted meat.

Jews eventually got used to the situation of a seder at home, and the idea of a sacrifice and Temple seemed strange. In that sense, the rabbis did too good a job. We pray at the end of the seder 鈥渘ext year in Jerusalem!鈥 but it seems unreal to us. Rabbi Yoel Bin Nun in a seminal article from a few decades ago, calls on us to understand what we are missing. Pesach without the Temple (like Yom Kippur, his other example) is missing its very essence, its very soul. We have lost the 鈥淐hag haPesach,鈥 the holiday of the sacrifice on the 14th of Nisan, and are left only with the 鈥淐hag haMatzot,鈥 the week-long abstaining from chametz. We need to return to the air of Jerusalem and the Temple.

Let鈥檚 finish up Masechet Pesachim with the prayer we recite at the end of the Maggid section of the Haggadah:

讘指旨专讜旨讱职 讗址转旨指讛 讛’ 讗直诇止讛值讬谞讜旨 诪侄诇侄讱职 讛指注讜止诇指诐, 讗植砖侄讈专 讙职旨讗指诇指谞讜旨 讜职讙指讗址诇 讗侄转志讗植讘讜止转值讬谞讜旨 诪执诪执旨爪职专址讬执诐, 讜职讛执讙执旨讬注指谞讜旨 讛址诇址旨讬职诇指讛 讛址讝侄旨讛 诇侄讗直讻指诇志讘旨讜止 诪址爪指旨讛 讜旨诪指专讜止专. 讻值旨谉 讛’ 讗直诇止讛值讬谞讜旨 讜值讗诇止讛值讬 讗植讘讜止转值讬谞讜旨 讬址讙执旨讬注值谞讜旨 诇职诪讜止注植讚执讬诐 讜职诇执专职讙指诇执讬诐 讗植讞值专执讬诐 讛址讘指旨讗执讬诐 诇执拽职专指讗转值谞讜旨 诇职砖指讈诇讜止诐, 砖职讉诪值讞执讬诐 讘职旨讘执谞职讬址谉 注执讬专侄讱职 讜职砖指讉砖执讉讬诐 讘址旨注植讘讜止讚指转侄讱指. 讜职谞止讗讻址诇 砖指讈诐 诪执谉 讛址讝职旨讘指讞执讬诐 讜旨诪执谉 讛址驻职旨住指讞执讬诐 讗植砖侄讈专 讬址讙执旨讬注址 讚指旨诪指诐 注址诇 拽执讬专 诪执讝职讘址旨讞植讱指 诇职专指爪讜谉, 讜职谞讜止讚侄讛 诇职讱指 砖执讈讬专 讞指讚指砖 注址诇 讙职旨讗只诇指旨转值谞讜旨 讜职注址诇 驻职旨讚讜旨转 谞址驻职砖值讈谞讜旨. 讘指旨专讜旨讱职 讗址转指旨讛 讛’, 讙指旨讗址诇 讬执砖职讉专指讗值诇.

Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the universe, who redeemed us and redeemed our ancestors from Egypt, and brought us on this night to eat matsa and marror; so too, Lord our God, and God of our ancestors, bring us to other appointed times and holidays that will come to greet us in peace, joyful in the building of Your city and happy in Your worship; that we shall eat there from the offerings and from the Pesach sacrifices, the blood of which shall reach the wall of Your altar for favor, and we shall thank You with a new song upon our redemption and upon the restoration of our souls. Blessed are you, Lord, who redeemed Israel.

Andrew Shiva聽/聽Wikipedia

Hadran alach masechet Pesachim!

Shulie Mishkin

Shulie Mishkin made Aliyah from New York with a Master's degree in Jewish History from Columbia University. After completing the Ministry of Tourism guide course in 1997, she began guiding professionally and has since taught and guided all ages, from toddlers to retirees. Her tours provide a complete picture of the land of Israel and Jewish heritage, with a strong reliance on sources ranging from the Bible to 19th century travelers' reports. Alongside her regular guide work, she teaches "tour and text" courses in the Jerusalem institutions of Pardes and Matan as wel as the Women's Bet Midrash in Efrat and provides tours for special needs students in the 鈥淒arkaynu鈥 program. Shulie lives in Alon Shvut with her husband Jonathan and their five kids. Shulie Mishkin is now doing virtual tours online. Check out the options at
Scroll To Top