Rabbinic Development of Passover

The seder takes shape in the rabbinic period.

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Passover and the Passover seder assumed a renewed importance following the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE, when the contemporaneous Jewish community's hope for redemption was felt to be foreshadowed in the story of the redemption from Egypt. Excerpted with permission from Every Person's Guide to Passover (Jason Aronson, Inc).

The special home ceremony on the night of Passover, the seder (which literally means "order"), is based on the biblical injunction to parents to inform their children of the deliverance, or Exodus, of the Israelite slaves from Egypt. "And you shall tell your son in that day, saying: It is because of that which God did for me when I came forth out of Egypt" (Exodus13:8). 

According to the scholar Abraham Bloch, the first step leading to the creation of the home Passover seder service was taken during the period of the great Temples in Jerusalem, when the Jews who had slaughtered the paschal (Passover) offerings joined the Levites in the chanting of the Hallel (psalms of praise). 
seder

The second significant step in the de­velopment of the home ritual of the seder was the pro­vision for the Hallel to be chanted not only at the slaughtering of the offering, but also at the family feasts when the paschal lamb was eaten (Talmud Pesachim 95a). The paschal lamb was eaten in private homes throughout the city of Jerusalem, and the chanting of the Hallelwas likely a forerunner of the seder service. (Today, the Hallel prayer remains a part of the seder service.) It is conjectured that the head of the household informally told the story of the Exodus in keeping with the biblical injunction that one should tell his children about the Exodus.

Beginning with the period of the Tannaim (teachers living in the first two centuries of the common era), we begin to find Talmudic references to various phases of the seder ceremony as we know it today. Thus, for example, Rabbi Eliezer ben Tzadok discusses haroset, the nut and fruit mixture we eat at the seder (Talmud Pesachim l14a), and Rabbi Joshua ben Haninah discusses the sequence of the kiddush (blessing over the wine) and Havdalah (ceremony bidding fare­well to the Sabbath) on a festival night following the Sabbath (Talmud Pesachim 103a).

From page 116a of the Talmudic tractate of Pesachim, it is clear that consider­able portions of the seder service were already adopted prior to the destruction of the Temple in the year 70 CE:

"They filled a second cup for him. At this stage the son questions his father. If the son is unintelligent, his father instructs him to ask, "Why is this night different from all other nights? For on all other nights we eat leavened and unleavened bread, whereas on this night we eat only leavened bread. On all other nights we eat all kinds of herbs, but on this night bitter herbs…"

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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.