Thursday, May 1, 2008

Korban Pesach Redux

In my most recent post, Boil a Cow, Roast a Lamb, I described the two accounts of preparing the Pesach offereing in the Torah, one of which (Exodus 12) clearly states that it is to be roasted and not cooked in water, the other (Deuteronomy 16) stating that it is to be cooked. Of course, we know that normative halacha states quite clearly that it must be roasted in fire and that cooking it in water renders it posul.

I had a chance to do some additional research over Pesach, including asking a number of different people about this discrepancy.

First, almost every translation of "bishul" in Deuteronomy renders it as "roast", including the various Artscroll Chumashim (naturally), Hertz, Sharfman Linear, Koren, and the JPS. Aryeh Kaplan's Living Torah is an exception, and he uses the word "cook" although a footnote quotes Rashi and Bachya, who state that cook in this instance means to roast. And indeed, almost everyone I asked said that cook is just a generic term. Like if you tell someone, "I'm cooking chicken for Shabbos" that might mean roasting/broiling, baking, boiling (but only in my soup, thank you!). But while such a loose way with words works in English, Hebrew is much more precise. The Brown-Driver-Briggs Lexicon indicates that bishul means to boil or seethe and quotes various sources in Tanach in which it is clearly interpreted as "boil" and which said translations above also render it as such! One of many examples is Leviticus 8:31 which discusses korbanos to be offered during the inauguration of the Kohanim. It uses the exact same term וּבִשַּׁלְתָּ, and every translation mentioned above translate it as "boil" - except Artscroll (naturally) and Kaplan who use the more neutral English term "cook" (at least Kaplan is consistent). Nobody, however, says "roast" because that isn't what it means. Obviously, accurately translating Deuteronomy 16:7 is a problem, and translators relied on a contextual understanding of the word based on the Oral tradition. Interestingly, one of the other numerous sources that B-D-B references for "boil" is Deuteronomy 16:7! Gezerah shavah anyone?

I did, however, leave out an important commentator until now: R. Shimshon Hirsch. He devotes an entire paragraph to discuss the phraseology of Deut. 16:7. We think that the general term bishul, to cook, which includes both roasting and boiling is used here because here it is considering not only the Pesach offering but also the Chagigah which is really what is new in the chapter on Pesach and of which verses 2 and 4 spoke... Agreeing with this way of taking it would also be the proof that is brought in Nedarim 49a, that under the term bishul the idea of tzli is also included, not from our text, which after all is closest to hand, but from Chron. II, 35:13.

R. Hirsch is making an interesting point that a generic term is used here because pasuk is also including the Chagigah (the "Cow" in my previous entry) which did not have to be roasted.

The Talmud on Nedarim 49a, by the way states thusly: (Mishnah): He who vows not to eat what is cooked is permitted to eat what is roasted or seethed... (Gemara) We learn in a braissah, R. Yoshiah forbids [i.e., is forbidden to eat what is roasted, contrary to the first part of the Mishnah]. And even though there is no proof of this, there is some indication, for it says "And they boiled the Passover in fire according to the law." [Chron. II, 35:13].

As I previously blogged, the Chronicles reference only indicates what was common practice hundreds of years later during the time of Ezra; it really has no bearing on the possibility that there might have been separate traditions that were only later reconciled. Nevertheless, R. Hirsch at least has a somewhat convincing answer for the seemingly anachronistic use of וּבִשַּׁלְתָּ

Finally, there is this explanation given to me by an expert in Rabbinics that is quite fascinating. It is a distinctly non-traditional one, but may be slightly more palatable to those opposed to anything that smacks of a Documentary Hypothesis. (Of course, such individuals would probably dismiss the idea that there is any kind of problem with these two passages because "the Oral Tradition clarifies everything for us".)

This rabbi claims that the two accounts of Exodus and Deuteronomy are completely separate and distinct commands. Reading Exodus 12 carefully there is:

  1. 1-11: Designation of a lamb on the 10th day of the first month (Aviv/Nissan). On the 14th, it is killed and the blood is put on the door posts & lintel. It is to be eaten that night, roasted and with bitter herbs. It is not to be eaten raw or with water, nothing is to be left over to morning. The remains are to be burned. The people are to eat the offering in haste [ready to leave Egypt].
  2. 12-13: A description what God will do to the Egyptians.
  3. 14-20: The command to keep this day as a memorial feast to God for all generations. The memorial consists of eating matzoh and unleavened bread!
  4. 21-28: Moshe commands the elders to kill the Pesach lamb, to put the blood on the door posts. This service is also to be done forever! (As an aside, note that verse 26 is found in the Haggadah, but it is obviously not the intent of this verse to suggest that a rasha is asking the question!)

Thus, it seems that there are separate commands regarding matzoh and the Pesach offering (which is a "zevach" here, and not a korban.) We still keep the commandment of matzoh, but as far as I know, Jews have never kept the Pesach offering described here, except in Egypt! But note that the Samaritans still put blood on their doors with bitter herbs. See here.

Now what about the command in Deuteronomy? It is well-accepted that Bnai Yisroel never kept Passover during their 40 years in the desert; Moshe is now giving them instructions as to how to keep it when they enter Israel. The Pesach offering now becomes a korban Pesach. What is the difference? It cannot be offered in "thy gates", but only in a designated place (traveling tabernacle, public bamot, or - eventually and exclusively - the Beit Hamikdash). And how are korbanot prepared? Any way you want! The only restrictions relate to time and place, and not with how they are prepared. You want to roast it with barbeque sauce, or cook it with duck sauce? Gezunter heit!

This explanation - while intriguing - still begs an obvious question: both accounts state that the Pesach offering is for future generations. Even if one is not bothered by the definition of bishul, what about the other aspects of its preparation? Did Moses change what God originally commanded and why? Was he on the Homeowner's Association and opposed to messy, bloody doorposts? Or do the Samaritans perhaps have a more accurate mesorah??

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