Monday, November 06, 2006


Menachem Mendel pointed me to the article Meals as Midrash: A survey of Meals in Jewish Studies Scholarship by Jonathan Brumberg - Kraus, Wheaton College, MA. Although it is a little early to discuss the Seder I want to share something I learned that finally put to rest a Mishna that I always felt is not well understood in our traditional sources. The Mishna in Pessachim 10:8 reads
י,ח אין מפטירין לאחר הפסח אפיקומון
We do not end the meal after the eating of the Korban Pessach, with “Afikoman”. The Gemara questions the meaning of the word Afikoman and the accepted answer in Halacha is that one does not eat anything after eating the Pessach so that the taste of the Korban remains. Nowadays, with no Korban, we do not eat anything after the last bite of Matzah.

Here is how the Britannica explains the word Symposium

In ancient Greece, an aristocratic banquet at which men met to discuss philosophical and political issues and recite poetry. It began as a warrior feast. Rooms were designed specifically for the proceedings. The participants, all male aristocrats, wore garlands and leaned on the left elbow on couches, and there was much drinking of wine, served by slave boys. Prayers opened and closed the meetings; sessions sometimes ended with a procession in the streets. In Plato's famous Symposium, an imaginary dialogue takes place between Socrates, Aristophanes, Alcibiades, and others on the subject of love. Aristotle, Xenophon, and Epicurus wrote symposium literature on other subjects.

Note the similarity to the Halachik requirements at the Seder – leaning on the left elbow, discussions as in Haggadah, wine drinking and servants as the Shamash in the Mishna. In Greek Afikoman = epikomion –“after dinner revelry”, which apparently was the normal procedure at the end of a symposium. In Bavli Pessachim 119:2 the Gemara (already alluded to earlier) gives several explanations for the word Afikoman including the consumption of fruits and nuts. In Yerushalmi one of the explanations is “minei zemer”, types of music. R. Saul Lieberman Z”L in his Tosefta Kefshuta notes that Afikoman is commonly understood as revelries where participants in a symposium, after the official party, migrated to a private home and continued partying there. Thus

י,ח אין מפטירין לאחר הפסח אפיקומון

means we do not partake in after dinner revelries as the Greeks did. The symposium was an aristocratic custom which the Rabbis adopted into Halacha as a demonstration of freedom emulating the ruling classes of the times. By making it into a ritual to be performed by all, it emphasizes the contrast of the Jewish people origins as slaves. However the Rabbis cautioned that we should not emulate the depravity that was quite common in these symposia. No after dinner revelries are permitted.

Apparently as the custom of Symposia disappeared or rather evolved into different forms, the prohibition of revelry was no longer relevant. Halacha retained though the idea by prohibiting any further food after the last eating of the Matzah which replaces the Korban nowadays.
What is also notable is that the halachot of drinking wine and eating the Korban in groups was an old Halacha that dated back to the times of Matan Torah. During the second temple the rabbis took a normal secular custom of their times and appended the old Halacha to it. It is also likely that originally there was a rabbinic rule of not eating anything after the Korban so that the taste linger in the mouth. This ruling fit very nicely with the admonition not to revel as the Greeks did.


  1. Jewishskeptic11/06/2006 4:09 PM

    of last Ap.6. He discusses the same topic.

  2. JS, Thank you. He says similar to what I say. Kvar kadmuni acher!

  3. The basic structure of the seder, though, is essentially halachic, and can be understood on its own terms.

    The first cup is qiddush. Then netilat yadayim for the vegetable.

    Then Maggid, which the Torah tells us is to be done in conjunction with the mitsvot of Pesah, to fulfill the mitsvah of "v'higadta l'vincha" and "baavur zeh".

    The Maggid is recited over a second cup, it is an extension of qiddush insofar as it expounds upon the uniqueness of the day.

    Then Matsa which, because it is bread, begins the meal.

    Birkat Hamazon is recited over wine, as well as Hallel.

    So the structure of the seder, the extra wine, or the fact that philosophical discussions take place in the setting of a meal, cannot be attributed to the Romans - they emerge organically from the Torah Mitsvot themselves.

    That the idea of leaning on the left had its roots in the aristocratic practices of Talmudic times is noted by the Rishonim and some Rishonim even state that, since it is no longer done today, leaning need not be practiced at the seder anymore (this is not the normative view, of course).

    I can see how the seder may have been similar enough to a symposium to warrant the warning of "ein maftirin." It is easy to see how that warning was interpreted as "don't lose the message of the Korban Pesah and become like Romans".

    But again, this flows naturally, to some extent, from the desire to remain connected to the sanctity and spirit of Pesah, "savoring" it rather than turning to other sources of pleasure.

    Overall, though, I don't see any justification for assuming that the seder was "modeled after" the symposium. It can be explained through reference to its own internal logic.

  4. Jewishskeptic11/06/2006 6:27 PM

    Apropos afikoman,I remember reading in *Midrash Talpiyot* by R.Eliyahu Hacohen where he asks how could the chazal use words of Greek origin ,spoken by arelim ovdei a.z.! & even make drashot on the words.?!
    The way he explained it is that actually all the words used by chazal which we find in Greek,Latin or Persian were really originally in Leshon Hakodesh & these nations borrowed those words & incorporated them into their languages & that's why the chazal could make notarikon(another Hebrew word according to him..) & darshen them! I find it amusing.
    BTW,the above R.Eliyahu Hacohen was suspected of Sabatean leanings.
    In the copy that I read(unfortunately,I lost it in my travels),he writes under the 'erech' Mashiach,that the mashiach will do "dvarim zarim" & will at first be rejected.& he writes that the Zohar says so.There is a long note by the well known R.Shaul Natansohn(I think early 19th c.)stating that there is no such Zohar & that many Sabbatean heresies have crept in s'forim,even in those that were written by g'dolei hador.
    The M.T. is an interesting compilation of all kind of legends,mystical explanations,sgulot etc.
    How I did get into writing all this?
    Oh yes,it started with afikoman & I got carried away..

  5. Rabbi Maroof, I did not intend to argue that the mitzvot at the seder were a posteriori to copy the Greeks. On the contrary the wine, korban, the matzah and even probably the idea not to eat anything after the pessach goes back to the times of moshe. Iy is only interesting how they took a pagan custom and superimposed on it a mitzvah and beacuse it was something that people of their time could relate to made the symbolism of the mitzvah more understandable.I wonder if we had a Sanhedrin nowadays would contemporary Rabbis have the same ability to adapt mitzvot and make them more meaningful.

    There is a Meshech Chochma in Bechukotai on Veaf gam zot etc... where he implies that lack of Sanhedrin freezes and limits the breadth of Torah.

    JS - I am extremely suspicious of any minhag that is based on Kabbalah that is not dated to before Shabbatai Zevi. I personally think that even those introduced by Beit Yosef are questionable. See my post on Hashem Elokechem Emet,there are others too that I have a hard time accepting, but after that generation, once we get to SZ everything is suspect. I think Dan on Seforim had a piece on Ledavid Hashem in Elul right before Rosh Hashana so are there many other munhagim especially from Chemdat Yamim that have enterd the ritual. Moshe Halamish of Bar ilan has written about it as has Ta Shema and others.

  6. >In the copy that I read(unfortunately,I lost it in my travels),he writes under the 'erech' Mashiach,that the mashiach will do "dvarim zarim"

    IIRC "devarim zarim" is a specifically Sabbatetean expression.

    It's possible that it crept into non-Sabbatean useage, but be that as it may, its no wonder he was suspected of Sabbatean leanings.