We are planning our 5th annual community Passover seder and were recently asked about lamb. We’ve gotten this question several times in the past few years, so I wanted to take the opportunity to write about our thoughts on this aspect of the seder, and why we don’t serve lamb.
The Passover sacrifice (Hebrew: Korban Pesach קרבן פסח), also known as the Passover Lamb, is the sacrifice that the Torah mandates Jews to ritually slaughter on the eve of Passover, and eat on the first night of the holiday with bitter herbs and matzo.
In Exodus chapter 12, we find the instructions from HaShem on keeping the Passover. In verses 8-9, we find this:
“They shall eat the flesh [of the Passover lamb] that night, roasted on the fire; with unleavened bread and bitter herbs they shall eat it. Do not eat any of it raw or boiled in water, but roasted, its head with its legs and its inner parts.” (Ex. 12:8-9)
As we can see, partaking of the Passover lamb was a command – an integral part of the Passover meal. So why don’t we do it?
The answer lies in the significance of this being a “Korban Pesach.” The Passover lamb is not just an ordinary lamb eaten in remembrance. It is korban. It is a sacrifice to HaShem – something that can only be done in the Temple/Tabernacle.
“Take care that you do not offer your burnt offerings at any place that you see, but at the place that the LORD will choose in one of your tribes, there you shall offer your burnt offerings, and there you shall do all that I am commanding you.” (Deut. 12:13-14)
Moses also specifically addresses the Korban Pesach in chapter 16:
“You may not offer the Passover sacrifice within any of your towns that the LORD your God is giving you, but at the place that the LORD your God will choose, to make his name dwell in it, there you shall offer the Passover sacrifice, in the evening at sunset, at the time you came out of Egypt.” (Deut. 16:5-6)
There are many references within the Tanach of sacrifices being made outside the Temple or Tabernacle, and it is always presented as a negative thing – often associated with idolatry. We agree with modern-day Judaism that attempting to offer any kind of sacrifice (in terms of a sacrifice that was to be done at the Temple/Tabernacle) without a Temple breaks the Torah – it doesn’t keep it.
It is also interesting to note that the Israelites didn’t observe Passover while in the wilderness after the first year. It wasn’t until they had crossed the Jordan into the Promised Land that they enacted annual observance of the festival.
(As an aside, the rabbis now consider the destruction of the Temple as a form of judgment from HaShem, and believe that the appropriate response is to repent and obey Torah, and pray for the Temple’s restoration, rather than try to sidestep God’s discipline by ignoring the clear requirement of a Temple for offering sacrifices.)
So, back to the Passover seder…
Based on the verses above, we believe that the lamb at the seder is more than simply a meat choice – it is part of a holy sacrifice. And because we are unable to make this sacrifice in a way that is in keeping with the Torah, we abstain from eating lamb at all.
Some communities, especially in messianic circles (but also some smaller sects of Judaism such as the Sephardic tradition) still eat lamb as a reminder, but we do not want to confuse the two or risk dishonoring the Torah, and by extension G-d, by ignoring the weightiness of the sacrifice.
We do keep a lamb shank bone on the table and talk about its significance, and the great significance of our Master Yeshua’s sacrifice.