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The Pesach Seder of the “First Mishna”

Prof. Michael Chernick

Rabbi David Zvi Hoffman’s
Approach to m. Pesahim 10

Rabbi David Zvi Hoffman (1843-1921), a pioneer of critical rabbinics scholarship, argued that the Mishnah as we now have it preserves an ancient core of pre-70 C.E. traditions – the “First Mishnah” – which can be uncovered through careful textual analysis.1  In an earlier piece, I detailed Hoffman’s method for determining what in our Mishnah’s strata was the ancient “First Mishnah” nucleus, and what is a later addition. Here I will explore some of Hoffman’s critical work on m. Pesaḥim 10, concerning the Passover Seder.

A Two-Pronged Method
Since Hoffman believed that the basic characteristics of the “First Mishnah” were anonymity and a lack of disputation, he would first strip mishnayot of material containing the name of a sage or a debate. What was left was the “First Mishnah” core – in Hoffman’s view, a product of Second Temple times collected by the Houses of Shammai and Hillel. Subsequently, he buttressed his claim with sources from formative rabbinic literature like the Tosefta or the Talmudim, and from textual evidence in early Mishnah printings and medieval commentators.

Although Hoffman’s method is out-of-date by today’s standards, we can appreciate the once groundbreaking nature of his analysis, which developed critical tools still employed in the academic study of rabbinic literature. In addition, some of Hoffman’s readings remain thought-provoking to this day.

The Passover Meal:
m. Pesaḥim 10:3

Hoffman’s central claim was that the original text, or “First Mishnah,” of m. Pesaḥim 10 describes the Passover practices as they were observed when the Jerusalem Temple still stood. The goal of his analysis was to reconstruct this early stratum of the Mishnah, and to demonstrate how later Sages living after the Destruction interpolated their views into this “First Mishnah.”

Below is m. Pesaḥim 10:3 as it appears today. The text highlighted in bold print is what Hoffman held to be the “First Mishnah.” The italicized material is what he considered to be additions into that stratum:

הביאו לפניו מטבל בחזרת עד שמגיע לפרפרת הפת

הביאו לפניו מצה וחזרת וחרוסת ושני תבשילין אף על פי שאין חרוסת מצוה רבי אליעזר בר צדוק אומר מצוה

ובמקדש היו מביאים לפניו גופו של פסח:

They brought [vegetables]2 before [the leader of the Seder]. He would eat lettuce until he reached the breaking of the bread (for performing the mitzvah of eating the matzah).3

[Then] they brought before him matzah, [bitter] lettuce, and ḥaroset and two cooked dishes, even though ḥaroset is not required. R. Eliezer ben Zadok said: It is required.

And in the Temple they would bring before him the body of the Passover offering.4

“Two Cooked Dishes” – An Addition to m. Pesaḥim 10:3
Hoffman claimed that m. Pesaḥim 10:3’s reference to two cooked dishes is an addition to the “First Mishnah.” He substantiated this by noting that

  1. The words “two cooked foods” are missing from the Yerushalmi’s version of the Mishnah;5
  2. This phrase also does not appear in a host of medieval Talmud commentators’ Mishnah text;
  3. These words do not even show up in early printed editions of the Mishnah.6

This indicates that the “First Mishnah” as it was formulated in Temple times dealt only with matzah, bitter herbs, ḥaroset, and the paschal offering, and did not include any reference to two cooked dishes.

The Source of “Two Cooked Dishes”
Hoffman pointed out that the phrase “two cooked dishes” does, however, appear in a baraita preserved in the Yerushalmi:

ירושלמי פסחים י:ג (לז ע”ד)

תני: ובגבולין צריכין שני תבשילין אחד זכר לפסח ואחד זכר לחגיגה.

y. Pesaḥim 10:3 (37d)

It was taught: And outside of Jerusalem people need two cooked dishes, one as a remembrance of the Passover, and one as a remembrance of the festival offering.7

This baraita explains that those who could not bring their Passovers sacrifices to Jerusalem were required to eat two cooked dishes at their Sedarim in order to recollect the Jerusalem practices being observed that night. What started out as a means of remembering Temple practices for those forced to spend the holiday outside of Jerusalem, later became the norm for everyone once the Temple was destroyed.

Question of Historicity
While Hoffman’s dissection of m. Pesaḥim 10:3 into the “First Mishnah” and later additions to it is plausible, a broader, more fundamental question needs to be asked: Is m. Pesaḥim 10:3 a true description of a Second Temple observance and therefore a contributor to a reconstruction of the history of the pre-Destruction era; or is the Mishnah’s reference to the Passover meal in Temple times, a later rabbinic invention that gives their Passover practices authority but produces no historical information about actual Second Temple times. Currently, most scholars view the Seder as a post-Destruction rabbinic reworking of the Greco-Roman symposium rather than a Second Temple observance.8

Three Questions of the Mah Nishtanah:
m. Pesaḥim 10:4

A common name for the מה נתשנה – the questions that spark the discussion at the Seder (like the questions posed at the Greek symposium) – is “The Four Questions.” Hoffman’s analysis of m. Pesaḥim 10:4 demonstrates that in fact, there are only three questions:

משנה פסחים י:ד

מזגו לו כוס שני וכאן הבן שואל אביו ואם אין דעת בבן אביו מלמדו מה נשתנה הלילה הזה מכל הלילות

שבכל הלילות אנו אוכלין חמץ ומצה הלילה הזה כולו מצה

שבכל הלילות אנו אוכלין שאר ירקות הלילה הזה מרור

שבכל הלילות אנו אוכלין בשר צלי שלוק ומבושל הלילה הזה כולו צלי

שבכל הלילות אנו מטבילין פעם אחת הלילה הזה שתי פעמים….

m. Pesaḥim 10:4

They mix a second cup (of wine) for him (i.e., the leader of the Seder). Here the son asks his father (questions). If the son lacks sufficient astuteness (to ask) his father instructs him (regarding questions as follows): Why is this night different from all other nights?

On all other nights we eat leavened and unleavened (bread), but on this night we eat only unleavened (bread).

On all other nights we eat all sorts of vegetables, but on this night we eat bitter (vegetables).

On all other nights we eat roasted, preserved, or boiled meat, on this night (we eat) only roasted (meat).

On all other nights we dip (vegetables) only once, on this night twice….

Hoffman argues that the fourth question, “On all nights we dip once; this night we dip twice,” was not originally part of the “First Mishnah.” He supports this view by citing a passage in the Yerushalmi in which R. Shimon b. Lakish claims that the last question originally appeared only in Bar Kappara’s collection of tannaitic traditions – and not in the Mishnah.9

Rabban Gamliel’s Required Statements
— Answers?

Hoffman also noted that Rabban Gamliel’s required explanations of the three essential foods used in the Passover meal in m. Pesaḥim 10:5, were parallel to the three questions about those items in m. Pesaḥim 10:4.

רבן גמליאל היה אומר

כל שלא אמר שלשה דברים אלו בפסח לא יצא ידי חובתו

ואלו הן פסח מצה ומרור

פסח על שום שפסח המקום על בתי אבותינו במצרים

מצה על שום שנגאלו אבותינו במצרים

מרור על שום שמררו המצריים את חיי אבותינו במצרים

Rabban Gamliel was wont to say:

Anyone who does not explain these three matters on Passover fails to fulfill his obligation,

and these are they: the Passover offering, matzah, and bitter herbs.

The Passover offering, what does it symbolize? It symbolizes how God passed over our houses of our ancestors in Egypt.

What does matzah symbolize? It symbolizes how our ancestors were redeemed in Egypt.

What do the bitter herbs symbolize? They symbolize how the Egyptians embittered the lives of our forebears in Egypt.

In other words:

  1. The question about why we only eat roasted meat is answered with an explanation about the pascal lamb symbolizing God’s “passing over” the Israelite homes during the climactic plague of the first born;
  1. the question about why we only eat unleavened foods is answered with reference to the redemptive significance of the matzah;
  1. the question of why we eat bitter herbs is addressed by referring to the embittering of our lives under the Egyptian taskmasters.

The Temple Seder
According to Hoffman

Whether or not it is entirely historically accurate, Hoffman’s understanding of the mishnayot in m. Pesaḥim 10:3-5 presents a picture, likely imaginary,  of the Seder in Second Temple Times. His reconstruction looks like this:

  1. The Seder’s leader would recite Kiddush over a mixed10 cup of wine.
  1. A vegetable, perhaps a bitter one, would have been brought to him. He would eat this until breaking bread, i.e., starting the meal by eating matzah, the bitter herbs, ḥaroset, and a portion of the Passover sacrifice.This order of events at the Seder would be the reverse of our practice, which is to eat the Passover meal after retelling the Passover story.
  1. A second cup of wine would be mixed. If a bright child observing all the odd behaviors at this meal would ask about the strange activities taking place this would provide an opening for recounting the events of the first Passover and Exodus. If no questions from a child were forthcoming, the pater familias would instruct his child to recite three formulary questions related to the essential foods of the Passover meal. The leader’s answer was structured in such a way that he would begin by relating something embarrassing or disgraceful in our history, but he would end with praise. According to Hoffman, he also used a fixed midrash of Deut 26:5-8 to expound on the Passover narrative.11
  1. as discussed below(see excursus), if the “response to the three questions” was the work of Rabban Gamliel I it is likely that it too was part of the late Temple period Seder.12

 “The Order of the Passover is Concluded”: A Summary

By separating the strata of the Mishnah, Hoffman believed he could reclaim a picture of how the Temple operated when it stood in those mishnayot that dealt with Temple observances. For him, this was true of Yom Kippur, other Temple rituals, and the Passover Seder.

Today the scholarly consensus has shifted. Overwhelmingly, academics who deal with the Seder and Haggadah now regard m. Pesahim as fully tannaitic and descriptive not of Temple ritual, but as an imitation of what the only truly free people in late antique Palestine, the Romans, did –they ran celebratory symposia. Still, Hoffman’s careful textual analysis – especially regarding the correspondence between the questions and Rabban Gamliel’s required statements – remains intriguing.


Historical Excurses

1. Which Rabban Gamliel?
If the author of the “responses to the three questions” was Rabban Gamliel I who died twenty years before the Temple’s destruction, then this formula may have been used even in Temple times. If, however, the author of this “response to the three questions” was Rabban Gamliel II (c. 90 CE-120 CE), the grandson of Gamliel I, then the formula became part of the Seder only at the beginning of the post-Temple tannaitic period, and essentially imagined what should have been said during a Temple era Passover meal.

2. Hoffman’s “Additional” Question
Hoffman’s position is that the question about dipping vegetables twice was a later addition to the three questions. What prompted the addition of this question? The answer is that, contra Hoffman, this question was likely not an addition at all.  According to our best Mishnah manuscript witnesses – which were not available to Hoffman13 – this question appears to be older than the question about bitter herbs.14


Michael ChernickProf. Rabbi Michael Chernick holds the Deutsch Family Chair in Jewish Jurisprudence and Social Justice at the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in New York. His area of expertise is the Talmud, and he focuses on early rabbinic legal interpretation of the Bible. Chernick received his doctorate in Rabbinics from the Bernard Revel Graduate School and his semicha from R. Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary, both affiliates of Yeshiva University. He has written extensively about Jewish law and lore and has lectured on these topics in the United States, Europe, and Israel. He is the author of two Hebrew volumes on rabbinic interpretation, an English language edited volume, Essential Papers on the Talmud, and a book titled A Great Voice That Did Not Cease. He also founded the Summer Jewish Studies Program at Kibbutzim Yahel and Lotan.

  1. Hoffman published his seminal work on the “First Mishnah,” in a book bearing that name (in German): Die erste Mischna und die Controversen der Tannaïm (Berlin, 1882). The book was later translated into Hebrew under the title המשנה הראשונה ופלוגתא דתנאי (Berlin, 1913), and half a century later in English, entitled The First Mishna and the Controversies of the Tannaim (New York, 1977).
  2. Some hold that what is brought before the officiant is a table with the necessaries of the Seder on it. See  Tosafot, Pesahim, 114a, s.v. הביאו and Rabbenu Hananel, Pesahim 114 a, s.v. הביאו.
  3.  פרפרת הפת is so defined in `Arukh Hashalem, edit. Kohut, vol. 6,  p. 442 a-b. Since the typical meaning of פרפרת הפת  is a relish or other kind of food that goes along with bread, there are some who say this is a reference to the eating of the bitter herbs. This is the first opinion in Tosafot, Pesahim 114a, s.v.  הביאו and Albeck’s view. 
  4. This is Hoffman’s reconstruction of the “First Mishnah”:

    הביאו לפניו מטבל בחזרת עד שמגיע לפרפרת הפת

    הביאו לפניו מצה וחזרת וחרוסת וגופו של פסח:

    They brought (vegetables) before [the leader of the Seder). He would eat lettuce until he reached the breaking of the bread.

    (Then) they brought before him matzah, (bitter) lettuce, haroset, and the body of the Passover offering.

  5. y. Pesaḥim 10:3 (37b). 
  6. See Raphael Nathan Nata Rabbinovicz, Dikdukei Soferim (New York, 1976), b. Pesaḥim 114a, n. 6. Dikdukei Soferim is an early attempt (it was first published between the years 1867-1886) to create a critical text of the Talmud by comparing the printed text to manuscripts – especially the only complete surviving manuscript, MS Munich 95 – early printed editions, and medieval Talmud commentators’ versions of the text.
    In this case, as I will note in the excursus, because Hoffman did not have access to the valuable Mishnah manuscripts we have today, he had to rely on early printings of the Mishnah.
  7. y. Pesahim 10:3 (37d). 
  8. See Siegfried Stein, “The Influence of Symposia Literature on the Literary Form of the Pesah Haggadah,” Journal of Jewish Studies Studies, volume 4 (1957) and Baruch Bokser, The Origins of the Seder (Berkely: University of California, 1984), chapters 2, 3, 5, and 6. Bokser notes that the Seder is a purely post-Temple creation and that the Mishnah’s description of “Temple practices” does not conform to any description of those practices by writers living in the late Second Temple era. For example, Josephus in Jewish Wars, 6:423 and Philo of Alexander in his De Specialibus Legibus, chapter 2 only speak of the sacrificial aspects of Passover without reference to the retelling of the Passover narrative.

    The Greco-Roman symposium was a meal at which philosophical discussions took place. At these events it was customary to recline on couches, eat appetite-whetting hors d’oeuvres like vegetables dipped in a pungent sauce or a tangy mixture made of local fruits, nuts, wine, or vinegar. The symposium began with questions, usually beginning with easy ones often related to dietary matters or foods in order to encourage all the guests to participate (=questions before Maggid). Also, the names of the attendees were announced (shades of the Seder at Bene Berak) so the participants would get to know each other. The discussion then turned to a more intricate discussion of philosophical or political issues (=Maggid). Either during the discussion or after it a major meal was served to the guests (=the Passover meal). At its conclusion the participants would sing songs of praise to the gods or the king (=Hallel). After the symposium the participants would go carousing. This may have led to the tannaitic rule that “after the Passover feast we do not go from house to house seeking out desserts and singing wildly.” See y. Pesahim 1:8 (37d) for two definitions of Afikomen, one being “songs” and the other being “desserts.” See also Ch. Albeck’s Mishnah commentary, m. Pesahim 1:8 where he refers to Greek post-feast revels as the matter to which the tannaim reacted. Stein, who first saw the connection between the Greco-Roman symposium and the Seder, bases his description of the symposium on classical Greek and Roman philosophical and historical sources.

  9.  Bar Kappara was a member of R. Yehudah Hanasi’s circle and a well- known collector of tannatic traditions that did not enter our Mishnah. His collection was known as “the Mishnah of Bar Kappara.” The work is not extant today. R. Shimon b. Lakish’s view appears in y. Pesahim 10:3 (37d).
  10. In antiquity wine came in the form of a concentrate. Water was added to this to create wine that satisfied the particular taste of the one who drank it; this is why the Mishnah speaks of mixing wine rather than pouring it.
  11. Hoffman bases this idea on the phrase at the end of m. Pesahim 10:4, ודורש מארמי אובד אבי עד שיגמור כל הפרשה כולה:, “and he דורש (expounds, interprets) from ‘my father was  a wandering Aramean ‘ (Deut. 26:5) until the end of the biblical passage (according to Hoffman Deut 26:8).” Hoffman believes that דורש implies using a formulated midrashic interpretation and claims that in Temple times a proto-Sifre—and perhaps a proto-Meklita and Sifra as well—were extant. There is nothing in the word דורש that actually supports this theory. If a person expounded on a scriptural passage in his own words that would be defined as דורש even though no fixed midrash was involved.
  12. Hoffman does not deal with m. Pesaḥim 10:6-9, hence, we do not know whether he considered the observances described in those mishnayot as having taken place in the time of Temple. Thus, we are left to conjecture whether the Blessing of Redemption (גאולה), Hallel, Grace after Meals, Great Hallel (Psalm 136), or Blessing of Song (ברכת השיר) were recited in Temple times according to Hoffman’s opinion.
  13. The explanation of this is as follows: The two most complete early manuscripts of the Mishnah are ms. (manuscript) Kaufmann and ms. Parma. Their version of m. Pesahim 1:4 contains these three questions: 1) why do we dip vegetables? 2) why do we eat only matzah? 3) why do we eat only roasted meat? The formulation of the three questions is the same in two Cairo Genizah fragments of m. Pesahim 10:4(T-S E 1.57 and T-S E2.53, the Yerushalmi’s version of m. Pesahim 1:4 (37b), and in R. Isaac Alfasi’s and R. Asher’s formulation of the three questions in their codes.

    These manuscripts were published only after Hoffman’s death, though the Yerushalmi, Alfasi, and R. Asher were of course at his disposal. His reconstruction of the “First Mishnah’s” three questions is therefore completely of his own making. Consequently, even though he occasionally supported his views by using Dikdukei Soferim, which was an early attempt to create a critical edition of the Mishnah and Talmud, he could only access what that work contained, and it did not have the Mishnah manuscripts I mentioned above. Had those manuscripts been available to Hoffman, his views regarding m. Pesahim 10:4’s questions and their date might have been completely different.

  14.  Despite the problems, Hoffman’s reconstruction of the “First Mishnah” questions may be in the right direction despite the lack of manuscript support. Indeed, he may have stumbled onto a true “First Mishnah” that was edited to fit later tannaitic concerns. His connection of what he claims are the pre-Destruction three questions to what he calls Rabban Gamliel’s answers is at least possible and even rather convincing.

    Further, we know from the Bavli’s discussion of the question about dipping vegetables that the text of the Passover questions was fluid and subject to revision even in the late amoraic period. This might have been equally true in the time of the tannaim as they updated Jewish practices in order to continue observing the Torah in a world without the Temple. If so, the pre-Destruction or perhaps early proto-tannaitic questions about matzah, bitter herbs, and roasted meat may have been the original ones that underwent revision at a later time.

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