Breaking a bone (Daf Yomi Pesachim 83)

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“And you shall not break a bone in it”

We have been on a journey over the last weeks involving the sacrifice of the Paschal lamb on the eve of Passover. We read in the daily Daf Yomi portions about the designation of the lamb, the carrying of it to the courtyard of the temple, the priests who stood in front of the alter with gold and silver bowls of blood, and the details of the actual burning, including the preferred wood. Today, we complete the journey with a discussion of the leftovers. There were no doggy-bags or saving of some of the meat or the previous bone marrow for another day. It must be consumed at the appointed time, and what was left over was burned.

The Paschal lamb was sacrificed on the afternoon of the fourteenth of Nisan and eaten after sunset. It was roasted over an open wood-burning fire and could not be boiled in water or cooked through the conduction of a metal grill. It was consumed the night of the fourteenth of Nisan and what was left over was burned after the first day of Passover, the sixteenth of Nisan. If the sixteenth occurred on Shabbat, the burning would take place on the seventeenth. Although Passover overrides Shabbat, the burning of the leftovers of the sacrifice does not.

If the leftover bones contain marrow, there is always the possibility that someone would find the delicacy and eat it a few days after the start of the holiday. The bones are considered “a base for an intrinsically prohibited object” and as such, “they are treated in the same manner as the prohibited object itself.” The prohibited object is the leftover meat that was not eaten at the chosen time of the first evening of Passover

We are provided with a basic principle: the bones, and the sinews, and the leftover should be burned on the sixteenth of Nisan.” That is of course, if the sixteenth is a Saturday, and then it is postponed until the seventeenth. The second principle we are presented with is “an item that serves as a base or container for leftover is something significant and becomes disqualified in the same manner as the leftover themselves.” And finally, we are informed that “because of this it needs burning like the leftover itself.”

A simple solution might be to break the bones, remove the marrow, burn the marrow and discard the bones. But this would violate the prohibition stated in Exodus (12:46): “And you shall not break a bone in it.” There are no easy rules to follow here. We are told that this prohibition against breaking the bone only applies to a lamb that was valid at one time, and not to one that was never valid. Of course, I am not really sure why we are discussing the leftover bones of a lamb that was never valid, because it would have never been allowed to be offered as part of the ritual in the first place.

We completed the journey today from identifying the sacred lamb to selecting wood for its sacrifice to burning its leftovers. Everything in this sacrificial ritual at the time the temple stood appears to be carefully orchestrated. But what must it have been like at the time of the temple when so many people traveled to Jerusalem for the sacrifice with lambs trailing behind them and local merchants selling wood from roadside stalls?

All the while, travel to the holy city required that someone remain pure if they were to fulfil the purpose of the journey and complete the sacrifice. We learned a few days ago that they might encounter corpses on the road which they would have to tiptoe around if they were to remain pure. And if they stayed in a roadside inn on their way to the city, they risked sleeping over a hidden corpse. However, if the whole world knew about the hidden corpse, or even if only one person knew about it, they would be absolved of any potential impurity if they could find a priest who wore a fancy frontplate to complete the act of absolution.

It is a complicated ritual and hard to imagine anything but chaos at the gates of the temple, with the air above the city of Jerusalem thick from the burning for days, disqualified priests standing outside looking forlorn and lambs bleating their last breaths. The acrid smoke of the burning must have clung to the lungs and stung the eyes.

Just imagine, an entire nation on the move for the holiday. What a sight it must have been. In the end, when it was all over, there was the long slog home and perhaps the letdown of a holiday that did not quite live up to expectations.

About the Author
Penny Cagan was born in New Jersey and has lived in New York City since 1980. She has published two books of poems called “City Poems “ and “And Today I am Happy." She is employed as a risk manager and continues to write poetry. More information on Penny can be found at
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