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Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Passover and Shofar

Passover: How the Holy Temple Observed

Arthur L. Finkle

The shofar sounds during all the holidays in the Jewish year:  the New Year, the Day of Atonement and the three pilgrimage festival. For the three pilgrimage festivals there are three very different rituals that the Priests practiced in the Holy Temple.

During the Passover in the Temple, there was a ceremony with golden and silver bowls through which the sacrificial blood of lambs were Pesach, the Priests sounded the shofar was sounded 3-times each for three parts of the Temple ceremony. The Mishnah Pesachim 64, it states:

The priests stood in rows, and in their hands were basins (to received blood) of silver and basins of gold; a row which was entirely of silver was of silver, and a row which was entirely of gold was of gold: they were not mixed; and the basins had no [flat] bottoms, lest they put them down and the blood become congealed. The Israelite killed [the lamb], and the priest caught [the blood]; he handed it to his colleague and his colleague [passed it on] to his colleague; and he received the full [basin] and gave back the empty one. (Thus it was worked on the endless-chain system.)
The priest nearest the altar sprinkled it once over against the base [or the altar].the first division [then] went out and the second entered; the second went out and the third entered. As the manner of the first [group], so was the manner of the second and the third. they recited the hallel
Babylonian Talmud in Pesachim 64b gives an example of the great number of people who entered Jerusalem and partook in this mitzvah by retelling that one year King Agrippa wanted to count the number of people. He instructed the high priest to count the number of sacrifices that were brought as the sacrifice (Korbán Pesach). When they reached 1,200,000 the Kohen Gadol (High Priest) stopped the count. This was double the number of people who had left Egypt.

There was usually a lamb for each family. Interestingly the Ethiopian Jews, who were cut off from Rabbinic Judaism, performed the lamb ceremony as was stated in the Bible, very similar to the Temple ceremony.

The Torah requires that the sacrifice be offered publicly. On the 14 day of Nisan the Kohanim (Priests) would open the doors of the temple and allow the people in with their offerings in three large groups of no less than thirty people but each group which usually were more numerous than the minimum. The Priests would stand in long lines shoulder to shoulder from the courtyard of the people into the courtyard where only Priests could enter all the way to the foot of the altar.

The first man would come with his lamb and slaughter it in front of the first Priest who would catch the blood in golden holy vessels and pass it to the next Priest and so forth until it arrived at the base of the altar where the blood was deposited.

The vessels had a round bottom to them so that the Kohanim could not put them down even for a moment in order to prevent the blood from coagulating rending the offering unfit. The vessels would be passed from Priest to Priest back and forth. The person would then move to the next station where the carcass was hung from a hook and skinned and the prohibited fats and other parts were removed.

Behind the Kohanim on a platform stood the Choir of Levites. When the process began, the Shofar was sounded with the three traditional sounds: tekia; teruah; tekia and the choir recited the Hallel prayer. This continued until the entire group that had been let in had finished offering both the Pesach offering and also the other sacrifice for the holiday called the Hagiga offering. (The first meat eaten was the meat of the Hagiga sacrifice and then later the Passover Sacrifice which was eaten with bitter herbs and matzah.)

An important feature is the Shofar’s prominence of solemnity, holiness and reminder of the significance of freedom from slavery. These blasts focused attention on the sacrifice of blood, representing giving one’s own life through animal blood as a metaphor of obeisance to God.

Origin of Hallel
The Hallel consists of Psalms 113 through 118 and is a central prayer in Judaism. It is recited by observant Jews as praise and thanksgiving on Jewish holidays, including Passover, Shavuot and Sukkot and on other occasions such as Hanukkah and the New Moon (Rosh Chodesh).

Rabbinic tradition credits King David with having written almost all of the Psalms, including those which now make up Hallel. R. Eleazar ben Yosé, however, ascribed Hallel to Moses and the Israelites; while R. Judah taught that the prophets had decreed that these psalms be recited to mark national events and deliverance from peril. Other sages maintained that Hallel was recited by various leaders of Israel throughout the biblical period----by Joshua, Deborah, and Hezekiah, by Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, by Mordecai and Esther (Pes. l l7a-118a).

They would chant the Hallel for each group at least three times. Accordingly, there were nine shofar blasts. When all of this was finished they would allow the next group in after the first group left. This occurred three times. If the 14th day of Nisan were Shabbat everything was done the same way except that the people could not take the meat home with them until after Shabbat.


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