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PESAḤIM (Heb. פְּסָחִים; "paschal lambs"), third tractate in the Mishnah, Tosefta, and two Talmuds, of the order Mo'ed. Pesaḥim deals, in ten chapters, with the laws concerning the *Passover festival.

Pesaḥ refers primarily to the paschal sacrifice, but was applied also to the festival itself. This tractate deals with both subjects, the sacrificial service (chaps. 5–9), leavened and unleavened bread (chaps. 1–4), and the seder (chap. 10). In geonic times the tractate was still divided correspondingly into two parts called Pesaḥ Rishon and Pesaḥ Sheni. The two parts were afterwards combined and given the name Pesaḥim (in the plural). In the Munich manuscript, the tenth chapter appears as the fourth, so that the "practical" chapters follow one another consecutively. There is clear evidence that the two parts of this tractate were not redacted in the same school, and there are definite differences between them. They contain conflicting topics and even those which are similar differ in details and even halakhically. The redaction of the tractate Pesaḥim took place relatively later than that of the other tractates and its Talmud already utilized the edited Talmud of many other tractates. The mishnayot of the second part are very old and refer to events from the time of the Second Temple and the early authorities. The Mishnah of the first part, though it is of later redaction, contains halakhot which were a subject of dispute between the latest of the *zugot and the first of the tannaim, as can be proved from the parallel passages.

The following are the contents of the chapters. Chapter 1 deals with the "search" for leaven (bedikat ḥameẓ) and its removal. Chapter 2 continues the subject and then goes on to discuss certain aspects of the making of the matzah and questions relating to *maror and *ḥaroset. Chapter 3 opens with a list of various foods containing ḥameẓ (e.g., beer made from barley), then reverts again to problems of the search for leaven and its removal, especially in the event of the eve of Passover falling on a Sabbath. Chapter 4 opens with the ruling that abstention from work on the eve of Passover depends on local customs. It then lists various halakhot which depend on local customs. Chapter 5 is mainly concerned with determining the time for slaughtering the paschal lamb and other aspects of the sacrificial service. Chapter 6 deals with the sacrificial arrangement when the festival falls on a Sabbath, and with related problems. Chapter 7 deals with the roasting of the paschal lamb, and discusses problems touching on ritual impurity affecting the persons participating in the sacrifices. Chapter 8 considers the question of a person slaughtering the paschal lamb on behalf of another person, and the qualifications of the persons involved. Chapter 9 touches first on the question of Second Passover (cf. Num. 9:10–11), but then discusses a variety of other problems, such as the interchange of a paschal lamb. Chapter 10 considers the arrangement of the seder night.

In the Tosefta, this tractate is also divided into ten chapters. An aggadic point of particular interest is how King Agrippa took the census of the people assembled in Jerusalem on the occasion of a Passover pilgrimage (4:3; also 63b). There is Gemara in the Palestinian and Babylonian Talmuds. The Gemara of the Babylonian Talmud contains a considerable amount of aggadah. The following are worthy of note: the insistence on refined language (3b); expressions of extreme antagonism between scholars and ignoramuses (49a–b); arrogance and anger make a scholar lose wisdom and a prophet his prophecy (66b); there is an advantage in the existence of a Diaspora, insofar as it makes a concentrated attack on Israel's existence impossible (87b, also 118b on the causes of Diaspora); and finally mention should be made of the story of the appointment of Hillel as nasi (66a). The English translation in the Soncino Talmud is by H. Friedman (1938).


Epstein; Tanna'im, 323–36; Ḥ. Albeck, Shishah Sidrei Mishnah, 2 (1958), 137–42.

Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.