Thursday, March 28, 2019

Passover Spitting

In honor of the annual “Something on a Stick Day,” Jewish Treats will discuss a timely and famous Jewish ritual food that is roasted on a stick: the Korban Pesach, the Paschal Offering.

In the absence of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, Jews today cannot fulfill the commandment of sacrificing the Korban Pesach (the Passover offering). As a result, for close to two millennia, no one has witnessed the amazing sight of tens of thousands of lambs being slaughtered in the Temple courtyard in Jerusalem in a matter of hours, in three shifts.

The Mishnah in Pesachim (7:1-2) teaches that the slaughtered kid or lamb designated as the “Paschal sacrifice” would be roasted over fire on a spit made of pomegranate-tree wood. The animal would be cooked over fire exclusively, in order to fulfill the Biblical mandate, “roast it with fire, its head with its legs…” (Exodus 12:9). The paschal offering may not be roasted on a metal spit, nor on a gridiron, because, as the Talmud explains (Pesachim 74a), the heat of the metal spit cooks the flesh, which would not be a fulfillment of the Biblically mandated obligation to cook the meat with fire only. The Talmud then asks why is pomegranate wood specifically recommended, not, say, palm, fig, oak, carob or sycamore? The Talmud responds, that palm branches have grooves between the leaves, which emit a small amount of water, and no hydration is allowed in the cooking of the paschal offering as that process would entail cooking, not roasting. Similarly, fig wood is hollow and contains sap that gives off liquid. Oak, carob and sycamore trees possess knots, which must be removed, and the locations of the cuts emit a liquid. When challenged that pomegranate trees also have knots, the Talmud answers that its knots are smooth, and therefore, emit no liquid. Alternatively, the Talmud suggests that a spit made of a pomegranate tree less than one-year old, which does not have any knots, could have been what the Torah recommended for the spit.

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