J-BOM (Jewish Book of the Month Club) is a multi-blog movement of people, mostly Messianic Jews, reading great books together and increasing Jewish learning. J-BOM is a form of tikkun olam (repair of the world) since the lost and lacking knowledge of Torah and tradition is one of the world’s great problems. From great Torah truths, great books, and the great ideas which flow from them there will be healing, serving, redeeming, and loving actions as a result.
The selection for J-BOM coming in April is Abraham Twerski’s Visions of the Fathers, a commentary on Pirkei Avot. It is traditional to study Pirkei Avot during the Omer period. Pirkei Avot, a tractate of the Mishnah, is about ethics, wisdom, and godliness, which is a necessary addition to halakha (principles of keeping Torah). Twerski is a psychiatrist with a speciality in substance abuse. He is much beloved by readers and the many he has helped find a path to wholeness and wellness.
Buy Visions of the Fathers here or here. NOTE: I will publish before the beginning of April a series of selections from Visions of the Fathers for people who do not have time to read the whole book.
I’ll call this third installment about the JPS Commentary on the Haggadah “Miscellaneous and Interesting Haggadah Factoids.” Tabory’s commentary, I am sorry to say, is difficult reading, not organized as well as it could be, and an example of tedious prose. Nonetheless, I hope J-BOM readers have been blessed so far.
Here I am with a list of factoids that can help you recover some value from your reading, even if it has been difficult:
(1) The Passover Seder is like an ancient Greek symposium, a meal at which the reclining guests discourse about topics of philosophy and/or literature (pg. 7).
(2) Haroset may have been included at Passover to counter the souring effects of lettuce with the sweet apples or dates on the stomach or because nuts were believed to offset the harmful effects of alcohol (pg. 8).
(3) Hagigah (festal offering), a term which could refer to all the holiday sacrifices, is discussed in rabbinic texts as a second offering made with the Passover lamb, to be eaten first, so as not to be ravenously hungry when eating the Passover lamb. The Hagigah in this sense is a theory that was likely never practiced, since a lamb feeds a group of ten to twenty quite well (in other words, the Hagigah is a legal fiction surmised by much later rabbis long out of touch with what actually happened in the Second Temple, pg. 9).
(4) The four questions were originally three and related the saying in the Haggadah by R. Gamliel that three things must be expounded: Pesach (the lamb), matzah, and maror. R. Gamliel’s saying was originally the answer to the questions. It is notable that the questions are not clearly answered in the present Haggadah since the questions changed over time and the answers were not changed to match (pgs. 13-14).
(5) Afikoman originally referred to after-dinner dancing and had an implication of immorality. The later sages misunderstood or reinterpreted a ruling not to have afikoman after dinner as saying that one should not have dessert after dinner. Thus, the custom of eating a broken piece of afikoman after the meal as the last food to be eaten was instituted. This also related to an idea that the last taste in one’s mouth should be of the Passover lamb, and the matzah used as afikoman is a replacement for the no-longer-eaten lamb (pg. 15).
(6) The karpas goes back to the near-universal Roman custom of eating lettuce dipped in vinegar or salt water as an appetizer before dinner (pg. 24).
(7) The breaking of the afikoman (yachatz) has two explanations: (a) afflicted people eat broken bread or (b) a blessing over bread should not be over a whole loaf, but a broken piece. It may also serve as a point of interest for children growing bored with the seder (pg. 25). (Note: I don’t want to be too mystical here, but these explanations are of late origin and a common Messianic Jewish interpretation also commends itself: that this is the sacrificial offering broken for us, which we take to be Yeshua’s body.)
J-BOM Blog Posts to Read
Seth Dralle says the JPS Commentary is unnecessarily difficult to read and gives a few pointers:
Yahnatan Lasko suggests that we march around the table at Seder:
Darren joins J-BOM: