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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The signature Passover ritual is a prime example--once centered on the eating of the Paschal sacrifice in Jerusalem, it shifted towards a retelling of the story of the Exodus from Egypt in the home through the words and symbols of the Passover seder. The 10th chapter of Pesahim provides us with many of the core elements of the seder that we recognize today, including the familiar four questions:

"They poured the second cup, and at this time the son asks the father, and if the son has insufficient understanding, his father instructs him: 'Why is this night different from all other nights?..." (10:4).

Rituals & Rites

Although ostensibly covering the special days of Purim and fasts, respectively, the tractates of Megillah and Ta'anit deal extensively with other aspects of the synagogue and communal worship.

Despite the features of prohibited work and special offerings shared by the major holidays, each one also possesses its own unique rituals and requirements. The Mishnah characterizes the observance of Yom Kippur by the abstention from eating, drinking, wearing leather shoes, putting on perfumes, bathing, or having sexual relations (Yoma chapter 8). Rosh Hashanah brings with it the blowing of the Shofar (chapter 3); on Sukkot we must sit in the sukkah  (a hut or booth) and shake the palm branch called the lulav; Pesah has the twin requirements of ridding the house of hametz (leavened products such as bread) and eating matzah (unleavened bread)(chapters 1-4);. Even Purim, a minor holiday without work restrictions and Temple offerings, demands that we read the megillah (the scroll of the book of Esther), give money to the poor, share foods with our friends and eat a festive meal (chapters 1-2). Only Shavuot, without its own tractate, appears to lack its own distinctive rituals.

All of the tractates in the order of Moed involve major themes that revolve around the calendar--in nearly all cases, the tractates describe the observance of a special, appointed day on the calendar. Only Shekalim forgoes the connection to a particular type of day--instead, this tractate deals with the yearly head tax, which required all adult males to deposit a half-shekel into the Temple coffers to cover the costs of the Temple services. Since this half-shekel tax was to be delivered specifically within the month of Adar, it, too, was integrally tied to the rhythms of the calendar, much like the holidays, and thus Shekalim also properly belongs in the order of Moed.

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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.