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The custom of Pesach

 

The Pesach meal commemorates the events of Exodus. Its major feature was haste, and the reenactment also emphasizes haste. Ex12:11 tells to eat in hurry.

Hebrews should eat the meal with girded loins, in shoes (otherwise removed during meals), and with staff. Those attributes symbolize readiness to go, to follow God’s call.

The solemn, fast, and symbolic meal of Pesach is anything but a drunken feast instituted by the Pharisees.

 

Root cells are prominent in the ancient words about food: mtzh (pressed, rolled out), lhm (heated, cooked food), hmtz (hm-mtz, baked bread), hmr (hm-mr, hot bitter drink, wine). The wordplay underscores the importance of root meaning, Ex12:20: All that is h’metzet you shall not eat…you shall eat matzot.

 

The prescribed matzot are not specifically unleavened bread. The etymological meaning pressed corresponds with the actual process of rolling out solid flat cakes from crushed wheat and barley.

The alternative was to bake the bread. In the traditional Egyptian villages, baking requires a day work by two people, and was a luxury in antiquity. 

 

Leavening was not an issue. Egyptian festive bread was typically made with sesame seeds and dates. Such bread is eaten soon and does not ferment in practice. Yet, matzot lack those prominent ingredients. The point of matzot was to avoid festivities. Exodus was a solemn, risky, and controversial affair, and no reason for banquet.

 

Ex12:19 prohibits sor and hametz during the Pesach. Sor cannot mean leaven because the ancients lacked the concept of it. They used old crumbled bread mixed with water for leaven, and possibly beer. Their line of reasoning was that old bread causes the dough to rise; they did not conceptualize yeast and need not a word for it. Sor meant any dough.

Jews need not absurdly search their houses for leaven crumbles on Pesach. It would be too burdensome for the ancients to throw away potentially leavened food before the holiday. Pharisaic legal fiction of hypocritically selling that food to Gentiles is unnecessary. Ex12:19 only prohibits to keep dough in houses. The prohibition is practical: no one kept the dough for a week, and its presence proved the intention to bake the bread immediately. That violated the major injunction against eating baked bread, hametz. Keeping leavened foods was not prohibited.

Ex12:19 prohibits dough (sor) and baked bread (hametz) in the houses.

 

Hametz does not mean leaven. The word consists of two prominent root cells, hm+mtz, hot+pressed. The common translation warm is incorrect. Freshly baked bread, described as ham, is hot. Ham is progenitor of African peoples who live in hot, not warm climate. Hametz has the connotation of hot+press, baked, not pungent (fermented).

That understanding of hametz is confirmed by Hos7:4: bad baker ceases to watch the dough from kneading until it becomes hmtz in the hot oven. Dough does not leaven in oven but rather is baked.

The dough leavened with sodium or bacteria rises during baking. Hosea’s humtzato could theoretically mean risen. Rising of dough is, however, an active process, while humtzato is passive. Baking of the dough is the result of external action, heating, and could be described as humtzato. In Hos7:4, hmtz means baked.

The meaning of hametz evolved from baked to leavened food because baked bread is often leavened.

 

Nazirite shall “abstain from wine and strong drink, he shall not drink hometz wine and hometz strong drink” (Num6:3). Beer was used to ferment the dough, and could be described as hometz, the thing that leavens.

Wine, however, was not used to ferment the dough, at least because of its colorizing effect. Hometz could not describe the leavening effect of wine. That the wine itself is fermented, would be described as hametz, not hometz.

Poetic name for wine, hemer, is suggestive. Its cognates are homer (boiling, unrest), hamar (to redden, rise), and hemar (asphalt). All of them follow the hm root cell meaning, hot. Naturally, the meaning widened from temperature to action, thus unrest, rise, and hamora (she-donkey). Wine is also hot in the sense of making one active.

Hometz in Num6:3 refers not to fermenting, but to the agitating effect of wine and beer. Hometz similarly means violent in Ps71:4, fully realizing its etymological meaning of hm-mtz, hot and pressing. Num6:3-4 prohibit alcohol intoxication of Nazirite by whatever means.

The traditional rendering, “He shall abstain from wine and beer, fermented wine and fermented beer he shall not drink,” is senseless. No one ever calls wine “fermented wine.” The qualification is too obvious; wine could only be fermented. Rather, the reading is, “He shall abstain from wine and beer, strong [lit.,agitating] wine and strong beer he shall not drink.” Here is the proper emphasis on the intoxicating effect of alcohol, unacceptable for Nazirite.

That Num6:3 describes wine as hometz casts doubts on the Pharisaic tradition of drinking wine on Pesach, when eating hametz is prohibited. That drinking (as opposed to eating) hametz is not explicitly forbidden, is hardly an argument.

 

Baking involves mixing flour with much water. Left in water for too long, the flour ferments. Indeed, the Egyptians made beer-like alcohol drink by mixing grain with water, and adding bread pieces to speed up fermentation. The Pesach idea is to avoid alcohol. The Pharisaic four glasses of wine run against it.

 

Hala derives from hll, hollow or cut through, perforated. That is typical eastern hollow bread, usually unleavened. Halot matzot in Lev7:12 are pressed cakes which are easy to oil. In Lev7:13, halot lehem hametz means baked bread; unlike matzot, it is soft, soaks with oil, tends to break when sodden, and inconvenient to carry then.

Unlike in the modern tradition, matza was not specifically perforated; hala was.

Reading hametz as leavened leaves Lev7:12-13 senseless: the same thanksgiving offering must be strictly unleavened (7:12) or strictly leavened (7:13). Pharisees came up with various tortured explanations. They invented a new type of sacrifice, “his peace-offerings for thanksgiving,” where the text clearly says, “thanksgiving offerings for his fullness [well-being].” They presumed that thanksgiving sacrifice was unleavened, and peace offering for thanksgiving was leavened. Leavened offerings were burnt not on the altar, but supposedly below it. Reading hametz as baked makes the text clear and sensible: pressed bread with oil, baked bread without oil.

Hametz as baked also makes more sense of the prohibition of hametz on altar. The opinion that the Hebrews considered leavened bread decayed and not up to the status of offering, is incredible. Leavened bread was difficult to make; it was expensive and festive food. Animal fat was clearly uglier than leavened bread, decayed fast – yet was sacrificed on altar. Burning hametz was prohibited for ethical reasons, as symbolic destruction of valuable food and the result of the extra toll. Another reason for prohibiting hametz on the altar is that hametz was already burned (baked), and should not be burned the second time.

Matzot are only rolled out, perhaps sun-dried. Halot matzot are the matzot baked after being rolled out.

 

Ex12:7-8 stands out from the context with sudden change from you to they.

Ex12:8 instructs to eat the bread, presumably soon after killing the sheep at dusk (12:6). But the Hebrews left late at night, if not in the morning, with still unbaked dough (12:34). 12:8 relates to Pesach festivals, not the actual events.

Ex12:11 is inserted in the context to retrospectively justify Pesach festivals. It obviously made no sense for the Hebrews in Egypt to sit the entire frightful night with staff in hands. It is unimaginable that the Hebrews enjoyed the festive meal (with meat) when terrible things happened just outside their houses.

In Ex12:21-28, Moses instructs the elders about the preparations, but says not a word about the meal.

Sheep were sacrificed, not eaten. It was important that every Hebrew household be protected with sacrificial blood on its doors. Size of families was directly related to their wealth; small families were poor. Thus small families were told to pool their resources to procure sacrificial lambs – not because they could not eat them, but to make sure they can afford the animals.

The ability to purchase lambs was related to the number of people, specifically of the “eating male mouths” (Ex12:4). That reference to eating suggested the interpreters that the lambs were eaten.

The Pesach food regulations deal only with bread, not meat (Ex12:15,18-20). That was rectified in 12:43-50 which deals only with meat. 12:43-50 also introduces the condition of circumcision, absent from the regulations about bread.

 

Introduction of Ex12:7-8 necessitated torturing of 12:9. There is no grammatical reason to read na as raw, bashel as sodden, and zli as roast.

1Sam2:15, Give flesh to burn to the priest. Sacrifices were burned (zli), not roasted. Zli meant specifically sacrificial burning, thus Aramaic zalei, to bow down. Is44:16 connects burning meat with pagan worship. Isaiah’s izle zali relates extremely intense action, burn by burning, not mild roasting.

In 1Sam2:15, basar m’vushal refers to the meat boiling in a pot (2:14), not merely sodden.

The correct reading of Ex12:9 is, Verily, you shall not eat of it, or boil it down in water, but [it would be preferred if you] burn it by fire, its head [standing] on its legs and on its innards.

Animals should be sacrificed whole. It is absurd to imagine that they should be roasted whole, with heads and innards.

Extremely intense u-vashel m’vushal cannot refer to mere cooking by boiling. Forbidding a specific way of cooking was pointless because eating was prohibited, anyway. Rather, boiling down the victim refers to pagan mode of sacrifice. The later prohibition of cooking a kid in his mother’s milk shows that the sacrifice by boiling was a persistent pagan tradition (Ex34:26).

Later, the priests greatly reduced the burden of rites. Only small portions of animals, especially unhealthy fats, were sacrificed. With that understanding, the editors adjusted the account of Pesach by adding Ex12:7-8.

 

Ex12:24, And the nation took its dough before it would be baked. Given the situation, leavening was irrelevant.

Batzek – chubby, thus translated as dough. Botz means swamp, thus viscous. Any dough is viscous. Batzek means any dough, leavened or not.

 

Ex12:39, And they roasted the dough which they took from Egypt, round rolled-out cakes, because it was not baked for they were expelled from Egypt, and they would not eat for they were terrified, and also they procured no victuals for themselves.

The text allows that ugot matzot were either the pieces of dough, or the result of their baking.

To read, They made unleavened cakes because the dough did not have enough time to leaven, defies common sense. Surely, many hours have passed after the Hebrews left their houses before they were able to eat. In the hot climate, natural fermenting is impractical because the dough would dry up. Pieces of old bread or beer foam are used to ferment the dough. Several hours of marching sufficed for fermentation. Besides, the dough was technically leavened after the introduction of the pieces of old bread. Shortage of time was irrelevant to leavening.

The Hebrews af the dough. Etymologically, we expect af to be
close to esh, fire. Indeed, roast correctly reflects the meaning. In
1Sam28:24, the woman was in hurry to prepare bread for Saul, and could not
bake it, thus tofehu - roasted it. Baked the bread in pre-heated oven is hmtz, roasting it on coals – af. According to the tradition, the escaping Hebrews roasted the dough on their backs under the sun.

 

The events of Exodus unfolded in the following manner. People were told to kill the sacrificial sheep and daub their blood on doors. The sheep were subsequently sacrificed by fully burning them.

Hebrews were not told to bake the bread, leavened or not. In the normal course, they had some dough in their houses. Perhaps they routinely made the dough early morning to bake it during the day.

Hebrews had to leave in a hurry, and could not bake the bread in their houses. They carried the dough.

Pesach festival reenacts the Exodus. The ritual breads, matzot, are round rolled-out non-perforated cakes. They are not baked, but roasted on coals or under the sun.