Seder Moed (Appointed Time)

The order of the Mishnah that describes the customs, laws, and rituals of Judaism's holy days

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For example, the second Mishnah in the seventh chapter of Shabbat begins this way:

"The main labors [prohibited on the Sabbath] are forty minus one: sowing, plowing, reaping, binding…tying a knot or loosening one, sewing two stitches, tearing in order to sew two stitches, hunting a deer and slaughtering it…building, demolishing, extinguishing, kindling…"

(Consistent with its role as a straightforward code of descriptive rules, the Mishnah does not explain why these 39 categories of work are prohibited--for this, we would have to look elsewhere in rabbinic literature.)

Holiday Sacrifices

In addition to the prohibition against work, the major holidays are also set apart from regular weekdays by virtue of the special sacrifices that were offered in the Temple in Jerusalem. On Shabbat and holidays there were additional offerings presented by the priests on behalf of all of Israel. On the three Pilgrimage Festivals (called the Shalosh Regalim, "the Three Legs", perhaps referring to the pilgrimage on foot), the communal offerings were supplemented by the sacrifices brought by individuals making the required journey to the Temple. On Yom Kippur, the High Priest conducted a lengthy and complicated service on behalf of himself, his family, and the entire people of Israel.

While the details of the communal offerings are covered elsewhere in the Mishnah (Seder Kodashim), several of the tractates in Moed deal extensively with the offerings, obligations and services particular to the festivals. Faithful to the biblical requirements, the Mishnah often adds numerous details to establish a uniform and often regimented service for the holidays' additional offerings.

For example, the first seven chapters of the tractate Yoma spell out the Yom Kippur service in considerable detail. Nearly the entire tractate Hagigah deals with the "appearance offering" (brought on Sukkot, Pesah, and Shavuot). Chapters 5-7 of Pesahim codify the regulations for the paschal sacrifice, including such fine points as whether one's intentions can render the offering invalid:

"If one slaughtered the Passover sacrifice not in its named purpose, or received or carried or sprinkled not in its named purpose, or carried out one of these operations in its named purpose but another not in its named purpose…it is invalid." (5:2)

By the time of the compilation of the Mishnah, the Temple in Jerusalem no longer existed, and rabbinic Judaism had already begun to make its shift from a cultic religion to a synagogue and home-based religion. Indeed, the considerable number of chapters devoted to the Temple worship in the Mishnah held only theoretical (and perhaps future) relevance for its readers at the time. Other services came to replace the function and role of the Temple cult, and the transition is reflected in the equal, perhaps even greater, emphasis placed on features of the holiday that took place in the home or in the synagogue--many of which occurred in very different form or not at all during Temple times.

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Dr. Joshua Levisohn

Dr. Joshua Levisohn is Department Head of Tanakh and Rabbinics at Akiba Hebrew Academy in Merion Station, Pennsylvania.