Passover from the Bible to the Temples

The focus is on the paschal offering.

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The king commanded all the people saying, "Keep the Passover unto the Lord your God, as it is written in this book of the covenant." For there was not kept such a Passover from the days of the judges that judged Israel, nor in all the days of the kings of Israel, nor of the kings of Judah; but in the eighteenth year of King Josiah was this Passover kept to the Lord in Jerusalem [II Kings 23:21-23].

The religious revival that began with Samuel continued through the reign of King David and reached its zenith under King Solomon with the construction of the [First] Temple in Jerusalem [ca. 960 BCE].

Passover in Temple Times

The construction of the magnificent Temple in Jerusalemlent new significance to the festival of Passover. A Talmudic passage (dating from the period of the Second Temple [515 BCE - 70 CE]) describes the Temple ritual on the 14th of Nisan. The description reflects the procedure in the time of the First Temple:

The paschal lamb was slaughtered in three groups… when the first group entered and the Temple court was filled, the gates of the Temple were closed. A tekiah, teruah, and again a tekiah were then blown on the shofar. The priests stood in rows, and in their hands were basins of silver and basins of gold. … An Israelite slaughtered his offering and the priests caught the blood. The priest passed the basin to his fellow priest, and he to his fellow, each receiving a full basin and giving back an empty one. The priest nearest to the altar tossed the blood against the base of the altar. While this ritual was performed the Levites sang the Hallel [Talmud Pesachim 64a].

There are several biblical references indicating that this procedure was also followed in Solomon's Temple.

Following the rededication of the Temple by King Hezekiah, the priests are described as tossing the blood of the paschal lamb upon the altar (II Chronicles 30:16). The Levites and priests are also described as having "praised God day by day [Hallel], singing with loud instruments to God" (11 Chronicles 30:21).

In the year 932 BCE, Jeroboam, the first king of Israel, reintroduced idolatry. Paganism spread throughout Israel and Judea and reduced the number of Jews who made the annual pilgrimage to Jerusalem. In the year 720 BCE, King Hezekiah set out to restore the ancient covenant. In his address to the priests and Levites he said, "Now it is in my heart to make a covenant with the God of Israel…" (II Chronicles 29:10). The renewal of the covenant was to be formalized by a national celebration of Passover, with the paschal lamb ritual as the highlight of the celebration. King Josiah, in 637 BCE, next spearheaded a Jewish spiritual revival with the accidental discovery of a Torah scroll in the course of repair work to the Jerusalem Temple. A public celebration of Passover with the slaughtering of paschal lambs was the climax of the festivities.

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Rabbi Ronald H. Isaacs

Rabbi Ronald H. Isaacs is the spiritual leader of Temple Sholom in Bridgewater, New Jersey. He has served as the publications committee chairperson of the Rabbinical Assembly.