But if a stranger sojourns with you, and celebrates the Passover to the LORD, let all his males be circumcised, and then let him come near to celebrate it; and he shall be like a native of the land. But no uncircumcised person may eat of it.
Gentiles are welcome at the Passover table. The rituals of the Passover seder and the Feast of Unleavened Bread are designed to inspire curiosity. The children at the table, observing the unusual rites and foods, are supposed to be inspired to ask, “Why is this night different from all other nights?” The purpose of Passover is to transmit faith to the next generation, to the Jew first, but equally also to the Gentile.
I read this commentary the morning of New Year’s Eve 2013 and it makes sense as far as it goes, but it doesn’t go far enough.
Wait. Let me explain.
There may be some believing non-Jewish people who want to or who have attended a Passover seder. I attended my first seder decades ago, long before I became a believer. I worked with a young Jewish woman and we became friends. She invited me to the seder at her home one year, saying it was a mitzvah to invite Gentiles.
It’s a mitzvah for a Jew to invite a Gentile to eat at a Passover seder? Not according to Adath Shalom:
There is a well-established halachic ruling which forbids inviting a non-Jewish person to festival meals prescribed by the Torah, as opposed to those of Shabbat, where this is permitted. [Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim, 512.] The reason for the prohibition is that the law authorizing cooking in these days (in contrast to Shabbat) applies only for those who observe the laws of the festival, which is, of course, is not the case with non-Jews. This is not the place to detail the relevant sources. But we maintain that as long as certain precautions are taken, such as cooking for all of the guests together (and not in separated utensils) – one would not transgress the basic law.
That looks authoritative, but I’d never heard of Adath Shalom before, so I kept looking. Chabad.org seemed to have a somewhat different opinion.
What addressing the myth that “One may not have a Gentile at their Pesach Seder,” Rabbi Aryeh Citron writes:
One may not invite a non-Jew to a Yom Tov meal unless Shabbat coincides with that Yom Tov. The reason for this is that one may inadvertently cook for the non-Jew on Yom Tov, which is forbidden. On Shabbat when one may not cook in any case, it is permitted to invite a non-Jew. (Orach Chaim 612:1, Shulchan Aruch HaRav ibid, 2.) If the non-Jew comes without being invited, one may feed him on a regular Yom Tov as well but may not cook or heat up food for him. There is no distinction between the Pesach Seder and other Yom Tov days in this regard.
Possible source of myth:
A gentile may not participate in eating the Paschal lamb in the era of the Holy Temple. (Exodus 12:43)
In addition, to commemorate the Paschal lamb, it is not considered proper to share the matzah from the Seder plate with a non-Jew. (Kaf HaChaim, 558:19 citing the Shelah)
That’s a little better, but the net result is that it would be better or at least easier for Jewish people to not invite Gentiles to their Passover seder.
I still wasn’t satisfied. My friend from long ago must have had a reason for saying that inviting me, a Goy, to her seder was a mitzvah. I know she was deeply rooted in her Jewish identity but she wasn’t always observant, so I don’t believe an Orthodox opinion is where she was coming from.
At Jewish Values Online I found the following question answered by an Orthodox Rabbi, a Conservative Rabbi, and a Reform Rabbi:
I invited a dear non-Jewish friend to my Pesach dinner for the second night. She wrote back stating that her other Jewish friends told her it would be inappropriate for her to attend. As a new Jew I find this off-putting. Were we not strangers in Egypt?
Both the Conservative and Reform Rabbis considered it permissible and even desirable to invite a non-Jew to a seder as a way to show kindness to strangers, “for you were strangers in the land of Egypt” (Ex. 22:21, Lev. 19:34, Deut. 10:19) and as an educational experience for the non-Jewish attendees.
But what about the FFOZ commentary? Every authority I’ve cited thus far is traditionally Jewish in the sense that they do not consider Yeshua (Jesus) as the Messiah, and therefore, would have no especially close association with Christians (in some cases, quite the reverse) or any other non-Jew. FFOZ is a Messianic Jewish educational ministry and on the matter of non-Jewish believers and the festivals, their viewpoint should be a lot different:
When we speak of Passover, we generally mean the entire Feast of Unleavened Bread. In the Torah, the term Passover (pesach, פםח) applies only to the sacrifice of the Passover lamb and its consumption. Exodus 12:48 prohibits an uncircumcised person from making a Passover sacrifice and eating a Passover lamb. The New American Standard version makes it sound like an uncircumcised person is prohibited from celebrating Passover in general, but the Hebrew makes it clear that such a person is only prohibited from sacrificing the lamb. This law applies to both Jews and Gentiles:
The same law shall apply to the native as to the stranger who sojourns among you. (Exodus 12:49)
An uncircumcised Jew and an uncircumcised Gentile are both forbidden from sacrificing or eating a Passover lamb. The Torah does not forbid them from keeping the Feast of Unleavened Bread, though. The law leaves them free to participate in the seder meal and keep the seven days of Unleavened Bread.
The matter, as was alluded to earlier in this blog post, isn’t the status of Gentile or Jew as such, but whether or not a non-circumcised person can make the paschal offering at the Temple. In most cases, it’s a foregone conclusion that Jewish males with any attachment to the Temple rituals in ancient times would be circumcised, so by definition, a Jew would be permitted to make the offering and then eat of it.
Gentiles, on the other hand, even those who were disciples of the Master in the late Second Temple period, would have been forbidden to make the Passover offering or eat of it. It even seems unlikely that they would be permitted to attend a seder in Jerusalem because the offering would be present at the table of the Jewish host and the Gentile would be forbidden to partake of it. Also, in most cases, Jewish tradition at that time made it extremely unlikely for any Jewish family to invite a Gentile to a seder fearing the non-Jew’s presence would make the entire meal unclean (see my review of the FFOZ TV episode All Foods Clean for details).
But in the diaspora, there was no access to the Temple because of the distance and Jewish families, particularly those who had come to faith in Messiah Yeshua, could invite believing Gentile friends to their Passover table, as there would be no sacrificed lamb.
According to the FFOZ commentary, that is all the more true today because the Temple currently does not exist. Passover can be a time of interfaith and cross-cultural fellowship between Jews and non-Jews. In the community of Messianic believers, in addition to what I just wrote, the Passover seder has greater meaning in the body of Yeshua, our Passover lamb, and this celebration offers a bond between Jew and Gentile in His Name, a reminder not only of Jewish redemption from Egypt, but of humanity’s redemption from sin.
But I mentioned that the FFOZ commentary didn’t go far enough. According to My Jewish Learning:
That Gentiles as well as Jews brought sacrifices to the Temple is implied in the prayer of Solomon when he dedicated the Temple (I Kings 8:41-3) and in the declaration by the prophet that the Temple will be a house of prayer for all peoples (Isaiah 56:7).
The Rabbis say (Hullin 13b): ‘Sacrifices are to be accepted from Gentiles as they are from Jews,’ although this saying dates from after the destruction of the Temple.
Even Orthodox Jews believe that Gentiles will have a role in offering sacrifices at the future Third Temple, according to AskNoah.org:
Gentiles were welcomed to the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem, and they will participate even more at the Third Temple – especially during the festival of Sukkot (Zech. 14:16). In his commentary on the Torah section beginning with Gen. 12:1, Ramban (Nachmanides) wrote:
“Even in the time of Joshua, … the Gentiles knew that this place was the most august of all, that it was at the center of the inhabited world; and Tradition had taught them that it corresponds in this world to the celestial Temple where Divine Majesty, called (righteousness), resides.”
When the First Temple was inaugurated by King Solomon, he beseeched G-d with an eloquent prayer that included the following words (Kings I, 8:41-43) (which show that in the past, Gentiles were welcomed to the First and Second Temples, and that they will participate even more in the Third Temple)…
So to bring this around full circle, we have an ancient prohibition against an uncircumcised person (Jew or Gentile) making and eating the Passover lamb offering, but it is permissible for an uncircumcised person (which in all likelihood, is a Gentile) to eat the seder meal when the Paschal lamb is not present, either because the seder is being held in the diaspora and/or because the Temple is not currently in existence.
We see that in ancient days, when the Temple did exist, the sacrifices of Gentiles were accepted and it is believed in Judaism that in the future Third Temple, the Gentiles may also make sacrifices and even have a greater role than in the past.
But what about making or even just eating the Passover lamb? In my opinion, even if a Gentile was circumcised (typically as a newborn for hygienic reasons), that is not sufficient for him to even eat of the sacrificed lamb much less make the offering. In Judaism, circumcision is the sign of the covenant and in the eyes of God, uniquely identifies Jewish males eight days of age and older. The requirement of only a circumcised man being allowed to make the sacrifice means that an ethnic Jew or one who has converted is permitted to make the sacrifice, and only born or converted Jews are allowed to eat of it.
I know there will be Christians who say the Third Temple will never be built because Christ is our Temple. And even if the Temple is built, I know there will be Christians who say that there will be no sacrifices because Christ is our sacrifice, the final sacrifice, the Passover Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world.
I believe, based on the article “Did Jesus Offer Sin Offerings – Part 1” written by David Matthews at AncientBible.net, that there is scholarly evidence to support Jesus having made sacrifices, perhaps even sin offerings (read the article for the details) in the Second Temple.
Also, Ezekiel 45:13-17 speaks of “the prince,” who very well may be the Messiah (although this is contested), making a number of offerings, so even in the age to come, we have some idea that there will be a Third Temple and possibly the Messiah will offer sacrifices on the altar in Jerusalem.
I know I’m stringing together a lot of “maybes” but I think these are “maybes” that can be supported by Biblical evidence, so don’t disregard out of hand what I’m suggesting.
I personally think there will be a Third Temple in the Messianic Era and in traditional Judaism, it is believed that one of the signs of the Messiah is that he will rebuild that Temple.
If the Temple is restored and sacrifices are made there as in days of old, then there’s no reason to believe that the Pesach offering will be overlooked or absent. That means, unless God decides to change His laws and to modify His decrees, that although Gentiles and Jews will be allowed to sit and eat at the same seder table in the diaspora on Pesach (but will there be any Jews living outside of Israel in those days?), this will not be so in the Land of Israel and in Jerusalem, City of David, as each Jewish family reclines at their table, opens the haggadah, and enters the mystery of why this night is different from all other nights.
It’s something that God has preserved for His Holy people, the Jewish people.
At the end of the Passover seder each year, we say, “Next year in Jerusalem.” I’ve never been to Jerusalem at Pesach or any other time. It is my heartfelt desire to visit the Holy City one day, either in this life or the one to come, Hashem be willing. But if next year Messiah returns and builds the Temple, and next year my Jewish family goes up to make the Pesach sacrifice in obedience to the Law of Moses, then I can’t possibly eat of it with them or even recline at the table with them (apart from the Mechilta commentary on Exodus 12:44 regarding non-Jewish slaves), unless one of you theologians out there has another understanding of all this.
Passover this year begins the evening of Monday, April 14th and concludes the evening of Tuesday, April 22. Chag Sameach Pesach.
Learn more about circumcision and the Passover Seder by reading Why is Elijah the Prophet Invited to the Seder?
Addendum: Since writing this, I wrote another Passover related blog post which received this knowledgeable response from reader ProclaimLiberty:
In that future Pesa’h scenario you pictured, you should certainly refrain from eating the lamb from the sacrifice, but if you have passed through a mikveh of cleansing you should not have to worry about rendering anything tamei by your presence at the table where there should be lots more to eat. This would be the sort of scenario that worried Kefa in Antioch when some visitors from Yakov’s orthodox MJ congregation in Jerusalem showed up. He wasn’t confident that he could convince them that these non-Jews had become purified per HaShem’s instructions and that it was OK to eat kosher meals with them. The notion of purifying non-Jews was still new and unfamiliar at that time. However, by the time of this future event in the messianic era, there should exist some familiarity already with non-Jews coming up to the Temple for festivals like Sukkot, so it shouldn’t be misunderstood if at least some who are properly prepared attend seders.
Perhaps my original assessment of the commandments around Pesach were a little too severe. If I’m going to make a mistake, I tend to err on the conservative side as far as Biblical requirements are concerned. If indeed, PL’s assessment is correct, then we intermarried Gentile believers will indeed be able to become purified and sit at the table with our families, partaking of the meal but not the Paschal offering in accordance with the commandments. That will require the proper frame of mind on the part of people like me, to celebrate the relationship between God and Israel as a member of the nations who is called by His name, honoring the specialness of the Jewish people by appreciating the imagery of them partaking of the Lamb as we support and defend the miracle of death passing over the Jews, as we, like the mixed ethnicities who originally joined with the Israelites in leaving Egypt, saw God through the lens of who He is to Israel.