With Passover approaching, Jewish families worldwide are busying themselves with holiday preparations, cleaning, shopping, cooking for the week-long festival. A growing number of people in Israel, however, are also preparing to return to an ancient tradition: the Passover sacrifice.
According to the book of Exodus, prior to leaving Egypt, God commanded the children of Israel to take an unblemished lamb for each household, observe it for four days, then sacrifice it. The lamb was to be roasted and eaten that evening, along side unleavened bread and bitter herbs, and any leftovers were to be burned. God instructed that future generations enact the same ceremony annually as a remembrance of the Exodus.
Upon its construction, sacrificial worship became centralized in the Temple in Jerusalem. Altars were not permitted outside the Temple, and the Bible is rife with tales of wicked kings who either built them or allowed their subjects to continue this banned practice. Passover is one of the three pilgrimage festivals, in which Jews were commanded to appear in Jerusalem to participate in the ritual.
After the destruction of the Second Temple, the Passover sacrifice was suspended indefinitely. To replace it, over the years rabbis developed the many customs of the Passover Seder, a long meal in which the story of the Exodus from Egypt is recounted. A shank bone adorns the traditional Seder plate, to remind participants of the lost opportunity. Since the lamb was to be roasted, no meat served at the Seder meal is roasted in deference.
With the return of Jewish rule to the land of Israel, however, some argue that now is the time to reinstate the Passover sacrifice. Two men, Moshe Hachim and Eli Yorav, have submitted a petition to police to permit the ritual for the first time in 2,000 years. The pair are acting on behalf of roughly 100 hopeful participants. According to the petition, the group wishes to ascend the Temple Mount with a portable altar, a lamb, wood, vessels for collecting the animal’s blood, and other accoutrements required by Jewish law.
Rabbi Menachem Boorstein, a leading scholar of the history and practices of the two Holy Temples, believes there is no halachic (Jewish legal-religious) impediment to performing the sacrifice today, even though the Temple is not yet standing. The only obstacle, he says, is the authorization of the police.
It should be noted that today, non-Muslims are limited in their access to the Temple Mount and are not permitted to pray or perform any religious activities there. Arab riots and violence have been incited by much smaller provocations than a ritual sacrifice.
These Temple enthusiasts are not the only ones preparing for the return of the abandoned tradition, though. The Temple Mount Organizations, an umbrella group for several bodies advocating Jewish rights to the Mount, are hosting the third annual Passover sacrifice “dry run” on April 10. That date is also the tenth day of the Hebrew month of Nissan, and the day God instructed the Jews to prepare their lambs in Egypt. According to organizers, last year’s event was attended by nearly 1,000 people.
Leading rabbis are set to participate in the event, which will begin with lectures on the topic and continue with the preparation of the sacrifice. Organizers say they have obtained all necessary permits, and the past two years’ gatherings went off without complication or outside interference.
Rabbi Itai Elitzur said, “If for two thousand years we were not permitted to circumcise our sons or don phylacteries (traditional prayer straps), we would pray for the end of this decree.” He sees the Passover sacrifice in the same light. Those participating in the event believe the Messiah could arrive any day, and members of priestly families who will be responsible for orchestrating the Temple service will need to be prepared.
Says Elitzur, “Whoever stays till the end will be treated to the meat after learning how to properly roast it, and I hope that this will have practical applications already this year and that the study will be beneficial to people in the observation of this commandment according to all its details.”