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The Passover in Temple Times

Pharisee Traditions!

                          THE JEWISH FESTIVALS #2


                              Hayyim Schauss


Pilgrims in Jerusalem     

     At no time in its long and varied histoy was Jerusalem a
beautiful as in the years preceding the destruction of the second
Temple. In addition to the permanent dwellers, the three great
festivals would bring countless pilgrims from near and from far,
from every country to which Jews had wandered.
     It is estimated that Jerusalem, at that time, had a
permanent population of close to one hundred thousand and that
this was more than doubled by the pilgrims who came for the 
holidays, especially at Pesach.  No matter in what corner of the
world Jews lived, Jerusalem was a holy place to them, and the
greatest wish of each and every Jew was to enter the inner court
of the Temple at least once in his lifetime and to pray to God,
to the accompaniment of the holy music of the Levites. At no
other time of the year did so many pilgrims descend upon
Jerusalem as at the season of Pesach, when nature newly carpeted
the brown earth with green, and the fields of Judah seemed a
tapestry of flowers gleaming and glistening in the sun.
     Jerusalem was never so crowded as during the Pesach holiday.
Every inn was filled to overflowing, and whoever had a bit of
room in his house made it available to the visiting pilgrims,
never accepting any payment. It was customary, however, for the
pilgrims to offer their hosts the skins of the animals they had
sacrificed in the Temple. Many of the pilgrims set up tents in
the squares and open places of the town, living there during
their entire pilgrimage. Jerusalem was so crowded at this period
that the very fact that everybody was able to find accommodations
somehow, somewhere, was declared to be one of the miracles of
     These thousands of pilgrims did not form a single,
homogeneous group; they were as varied as the world and as full
of color.
     There were Jews and Jewish converts from every country of
the known world, from Syria and Asia Minor, from Babylonia and
Medea, from Cyprus and Greece, and from Egypt and Rome. They did
not speak the same language; those from Mesopotamia and
thereabouts spoke various dialects of Aramaic; most of the Jews
who came from the west spoke Greek. There was, too, a great
difference in the outward appearance of these pilgrims. Side by
side one would see poor Jewish peasants who had traveled from
various districts of Palestine on donkeys, and rich Jewish
merchants or bankers that had arrived from distant lands by boat.
     All these pilgrims did not come to Jerusalem solely because
of pious motives. Many merchants arrived laden with wares, ready
to do business, for a holy city that attracted so many pilgrims
offered a fine opportunity for sale and barter. Jerusalem was a
ready market, even during ordinary times. There was always trade
in cattle and other live stock, which were needed for the
sacrifices, and in raw materials and finished products of all
     Jerusalem was an especially fine sheep and cattle market
before Pesach, for so many animals were needed for the Pesach
sacrifices. There was also a large sale of the spices needed for
Pesach eve. Most of the cattle came from the immediate
neighborhood, but the spices were, in the main, imported from
Mesopotamia. Long camel trains from Mesopotamia, laden with
spices and herbs, were a common sight at this time of the

Preparations for Pesach

     Jerusalem is crowded with people and tumultous with their
noise. A steady succession of pilgrims pours into the town from
every side and through every gate.
     Further confusion is caused by the near-by peasants, driving
their cattle and sheep to market. The Roman Procurator has
already arrived from Caesaria, with additional soldiers to guard
against any possible uprising during that period. He is quartered
in Herod's Palace, which is more than a dwelling, being built
like a fortress, encircled by a high wall, studded with soaring
     It is early morning. The morning services has been completed
in the Temple and the worshipers have left the synagogues. The
market place, a broad street that stretches its way through the
entire town, is now filled with people. Both sides of the
thoroughfare are lined with booths, stands, and tables.
Everything is on sale here, whatever the eye can see or the heart
long for. Look! There are cakes made from wheat grown on Mount
Ephraim! And there, fish from the depths of Lake Kinnereth! A
third sells wine and a fourth calls to the passers-by to purchase
spices and condiments for the Pesach feast. Here is a booth
offering for sale jewelry and adornments which are the fashion in
Alexandria and Rome, and there is a street merchant offering a
syrup pressed from grapes. One dealer offers golden adornments
for the head, a specialty of the goldsmiths of Jerusalem, and he
calls, "Buy golden Jerusalems as a souvenir of the holy city." 
(a golden souvenir which the goldsmiths of Jerusalem sold to the

     Not an inch of space is wasted. In front of the houses and
between the booths and stands sit tradesmen, using the street as
their workshop. A tailor sits cross-legged and sews fringes on a
coat; opposite him sits a shoemaker repairing the torn sandals of
a pilgrim; a blacksmith stands nearby, hammering away on the
handle of a sword.
     Each of the little side streets that lead off the market
street has its particular trade. There is the street of the
butchers and the street of the wool-combers; each little street
has its specialty. But the big street, the really interesting
street, is the great market place. Every moment it becomes more
crowded and noisy, and the scene becomes more varied and
exciting. The buyers, the sellers, and the idlers crush and
jostle each other for space. Here comes a group of pilgrims from
Alexandria, dressed in Grecian garments and speaking Greek to
each other. In contrast, a group of pilgrims from Galilee, very
pious Jewish peasants from the north of Palestine, follow them.
Their voices are heard high above the tumult of the market place,
and by the Galilean dialect of their Aramaic speech it is
recognized where they are from.
     Perhaps the greatest noise and the greatest crowds are in
the cattle market near the Mount of the Temple. Sheep and goats
are sold there by the thousands. Poor Jews bargain over the
prices of the animals; the richer pilgrims do not deign to
bargain and so pay higher prices for their sacrifical animals.
It is, however, not enough just to buy a sheep or goat in order
to be ready for Pesach eve. The sacrificial animal is not eaten
for one alone, but in groups that are made up in advance, for one
man cannot eat an entire animal and it is forbidden to leave any
part of the animal for the next day. So Jews rush about making
arrangements to form groups or to become part of one. A group
cannot consist of less than ten people, for it takes at least
that many to eat an entire sheep at one sitting. But some Jews
form huge groups, numbering so many that each member can get no
more than a mere taste of the sacrificial animal, a piece no
larger than an olive, entirely too small to satisfy one's hunger.
IT is customary, then, for such groups to slay another animal, an
additional festive offering called "chagigoh. This animal is
always useful. Unlike the official sacrifice, which had to be
eaten before dawn, the "chagigoh" may be held for a second day.

The Morning Before

     Thousands of priests and Levites are gathered in the  
Temple. There are twenty-four divisions of them on duty
throughout the land and, generally, there is only one
division present in Jerusalem to take care of the Temple service.
However, during the three great festivals, when there are so many
people in town and so many, to be sacrificed, all divisions come
to Jerusalem.

(What you are going to read now is the traditions of the
Pharisees, as they added to the word of Moses and even got the
wrong time to observe the eating of the Passover meal. The
correct observance is covered in detail in my studies on the
Passover on this Website - Keith Hunt)

     The "chomets," the bread and sour dough, is cleaned out of 
the houses. The night before, by the light of oil lamps, every,
corner is searched and every bit of "chomets" removed. All the
people in Jerusalem wait for the official signal to burn the
"chomets." This signal is given by the priests in the Temple who
use two disqualified loaves of the thanks offering. These loaves
are placed on top of the outside colonnade of the Temple. As long
as these two loaves are in view, "chomets" may still be eaten.
When one loaf is removed, the people cease eating "chomets." When
the second loaf is removed, then the people begin to burn their
     But this system of signals is not sufficient for all of
Jerusalem and another is arranged. Two kine are set to plowing
the earth on top of the Mount of Olives and as long as both are
attached to the plow, "chomets" may still be eaten. The
unhitching of one is a signal to cease eating "chomets" and the
removal of the second is a sign to burn "chomets."

(None of this tradition of course can be found in the books of
Moses. And the discription that follows is as the Pharisees
taught it on the daylight part of the 14th of Nisan - Keith Hunt)


     The spirit of the holiday has permeated every nook and canny
of Jerusalem. By now all have ceased working; even the tailors,
the shoemakers, the haircutters, and washers have finished the
last piece of work for the pilgrims.
     Thousands of Jews march through the town, this one with a
sheep, that one with a goat, riding high on his shoulder. All
direct their steps to the Temple, to be among the first to offer
their Pesach sacrifice. The regular afternoon sacrifice at the
Temple is offered an hour earlier than usual and at about three
o'clock the people begin the slaughtering of the Pesach

     The ritual is repeated three times. When the court of the
Temple is filled with the first comers, the gates are shut. The
Levites blow the ceremonial "t'kioh, t'ruoh, t'kioh" (a threefold
blast) on their trumpets and the sacrifice begins. The owner
himself slays the animal. The priests stand in rows, bearing
aloft gold and silver trays, each metal borne by a different row
of priests.
     They perform their share of the ritual and the Levites stand
on a platform and sing "Hallel," Psalms of praise for holidays,
to the accompaniment of musical instruments. The elaborateness of
the ritual and the singing and playing of the Levites add dignity
and beauty to the scene, and the Jews gathered in the court are
filled with devotion and piety.
     The first section files out of the court and the second
section files in. The same ritual is performed again. It is
repeated once more for the third and final section. Members of
the third section are called "Lazybones." 
     The entire ceremony and ritual is carried on in a
comparatively quiet and orderly manner. Once, in the time of the
famous Hillel, there was such a surge and crowding at the
sacrifice of the Pesach that an old man was crushed to death, but
that never happened again. So orderly is the crowd that all three
sections have finished in less than two hours, and the priests
are left alone to clean up the court.

(At the crucifixion of Christ with darkness coming from about
noon to His final death, the Temple curtain being split in two
that divided the holy place from the most holy place, there would
have been so much fear and confusion in the Temple, it is not
possible what you have read above, would have been administered.
And besides that, the books of Moses carry no such instructions
as needed in the Tabernacle or Temple as pertaining to the
Passover slaying. For it is clear from the books of Moses that
the individual groups could slay and eat the Passover, without
any priest being involved. No "out of the norm" ritual service
was needed in the Temple apart from that which was
designated by the laws of Moses, certainly the slaying of the
Passover lambs DID NOT have to be done in the Temple - Keith

Towards Evening

     Thousands of Jews rush from the Mount of the Temple through
the streets of Jerusalem, each bearing on his shoulder the
sacrificial animal wrapped in its own skin. All are busy and
expectant, preparing themselves for the great night of the year,
the night of redemption. Darkness descends on the holy city.
Everywhere sheep and goats, spitted on fragrant pomegranate wood,
are roasting in the clay stoves which stand in the courtyards of
the homes. These stoves are called "Pesach-ovens" and are
movable; should there be heavy rain they are carried into the
house. The groups are now gathering. Relatives and friends
assemble from near and from far.
     Every large room is a meetingplace for a group. Nobody is
omitted. The poor are invited to the homes of the rich and a
spirit of brotherliness, of national unity, binds all together at
the feast. All are partners: masters and slaves, men and women,
the aged and youthful. All are dressed in white, festive clothes,
much adorned and bedecked. The women, especially, wear jewelry in
honor of the occasion. The Babylonian women are easily
differentiated from the native women, since they wear brilliantly
colored garments; the Palestinian women, however, wear only
clothes made of bleached linen.
     The celebration begins. All is quiet in the streets. The
full moon moves over the flat roofs of Jerusalem and bedecks
every thing in silver. In the homes people lounge on sofas 
placed around the room. The left hand rests on soft cushions, the
right hand takes food and drink from small, individual tables set
before each feaster. One sits at the head of the room and leads
in the ceremonial observance. First a glass of wine mixed with
water is taken. Then the right hand and is washed and all
partake of lettuce dipped in a tart liquid. Then the sacrificial
animal is served and is eaten with matsoh and bitter herbs,
dipped in charoses, a mixture of ground nuts and fruits in
wine. Then begins the second part of the ceremonial of the
evening; the reciting of the story of the festival, and the
discussion of the ceremonies that go with it. A second glass of
diluted wine is drunk and the son of the household asks why this
night is different from all other nights. His father answers him
with excerpts from the Bible telling about the deliverance from
Egypt and then explains the meaning of the sacrificial lamb, the
matsoh, and the bitter herbs. All listen to him with great
attention and devotion. And when he starts to sing Hallel, they
all join in loudly. They conclude with the benediction for
redemption and are filled with the hope of immediate deliverance
from their enemies and the removal of the foreign governor and
his foreign soldiers from the holy city.
     It is now quite late in the night. The third and fourth
glasses of wine have been finished and the feast, with its atten-
ant ceremonies, is over. The older members of the group, however,
still recline on their sofas and relate and interpret the story
of the Exodus. Here and there a member of the group nods, or
falls fast asleep. Some of the younger element would like to
celebrate further, but their elders restrain them. After eating
the sacrificial animal, no entertainment is allowed, such as is
common after ordinary feasts. The feasters must satisfy
themselves with going from one group to another, greeting and
hailing friends. Once more the streets of Jerusalem are filled
with promenading Jews, natives and pilgrims side by side. Many of
them are on their way to the Mount of the Temple, for the Levites
now open the gates of the Holy House and Jews spend the rest of
the night there, praying and singing hymns of praise to God.

Such was the observance of the Passover as the Pharisees had
formed it over the centuries after the Jews came forth from the
Babylon captivity. Many things had been added and adopted, the
two worst being the added Temple slaying of the Passover lambs,
and secondly, even more incorrect, the Passover being on the 15th
day and not the 14th, hence the blending of the Passover meal
with the first holy day of the feast of Unleavened Bread, which
then blended what was originally TWO feasts, making up 8 days in
total, into a Feast of 7 days. Truly the words of Christ in Mark
7 about "traditions" making void the commandments of God, come to
clear view in the Pharisee teaching on how and when to observe
the Passover - Keith Hunt

To be continued

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