Ancient message of Jewish unity
A model of King Herod I’s renovated version of the Second Temple in Jerusalem. (photo from Ariely via Wikimedia Commons)
Between 19 BCE and 4 BCE, King Herod I renovated the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem, enlarging and beautifying it. It is during this same period that we first learn of the Jewish pilgrimages to Jerusalem on what are known as the shalosh regalim, the three pilgrimage festivals.
All of the festivals – Passover, Shavuot and Sukkot – centre around the story of the Exodus in some way. But Passover is the first and foremost of the bunch.
Jerusalem always held a special place in the hearts of the Jewish people, but as the Romans built roads and as Herod expanded the Temple, the pilgrimage to Jerusalem became commonplace and served as a message of unity – “one Temple, one God, one Passover” – for all Jews, said Prof. Jonathan Klawans of Boston University’s department of religion.
Yet, detailed writings about what the pilgrimage festivals may have looked like during Temple times don’t exist. According to talmudic scholar Dr. Joshua Kulp, author of Schechter Haggadah: Art, History and Commentary, most knowledge on the subject comes from the works of the ancient historian Josephus. While later writings (such as the New Testament) describe what it was like in Jerusalem during the Second Temple era, those works were written at a much later time and some scholars doubt their accuracy.
It isn’t known where people stayed or slept when they were in Jerusalem, or how many people showed up (though most assume a large number), or what people felt at that time. What is known, Klawans explained, is that the pilgrimages were a social experience that pulled the Jewish people together.
It’s also clear that, for Passover, pilgrimage participants ate in Jerusalem as family units. A representative from each family would take an animal, bring it up to the Temple, and have it slaughtered. Then, the representative would bring the animal back, and the family would cook and eat the sacrificial meat. During this festive meal, families also drank wine, but not a specific number of glasses. They sang songs – specifically, the Hallel prayers, which is also part of the modern Passover seder.
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Maayan Jaffe is an Overland Park-based freelance writer. Reach her at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter, @MaayanJaffe.