Bar-Ilan University's Parashat Hashavua Study Center
Shabbat Hol Hamoed 5762/ March 30, 2002
Lectures on the weekly Torah reading by the faculty
of Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan, Israel.
A project of the Faculty of Jewish Studies,
Paul and Helene Shulman Basic Jewish Studies Center,
and the Office of the Campus Rabbi. Published on the Internet
under the sponsorship of Bar-Ilan University's
International Center for Jewish Identity.
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Publication by the Center for IT & IS Staff at Bar-Ilan University.
Inquiries and comments to:
Dr. Isaac Gottlieb, Department of Bible,
Shabbat Hol Hamoed 5762/ March 30, 2002
Passover in the Yemenite Tradition
Dr. Moshe Gavra
Naftal-Yaffe Dept. of Talmud
The Yemenite Jewish community, one of the oldest Jewish
communities to be established in the Exile, has preserved many ancient
traditions. The tendency has been to integrate new customs that reached Yemen
with older practices. Jewish practice throughout Yemen has not always been
uniform; over the past two centuries two or three main schools of practice began
to emerge with regard to halakhah and customs practiced among Yemenite
Jewry. These streams are to be found among Jews of Yemenite origin living in
The Baladi Community
Founded by Mori (Rabbi) Yihye Salah-Maharitz (18th
century). His approach was to preserve ancient Yemenite tradition while
selectively adopting customs and practices that harmonized with this tradition.
Mostly he followed Maimonides in his halakhic
and edited a prayer book, Etz
. In the early twentieth century R. Yihye Kapah, the Hakham Bashi
(representative of the community to the Moslem authorities) began to reduce the
influence of Kabbalah and with regard to several practices led a return to the
more ancient Yemenite custom. This community, known as the Darda'i, generally
followed similar practices to the Baladi Jews.
The Shami community
In large areas of Yemen's Shar'ab province the Jews adopted
all the practices of the Sephardic kabbalists, retaining very little of ancient
Yemenite tradition. In central Yemen as well prayers followed the Shami
tradition, although strong ties were maintained to Baladi tradition.
This article sets forth the unique customs observed by
Yemenite Jews on Passover, customs that prevailed over the past two centuries in
the Baladi and some of the Shami
Preparing for Passover
The wheat to be used on Passover was kept under surveillance
from the moment of harvesting.
The wheat set
aside for Passover use, including shemura matzah
, was buried amidst a
weed called harmel
, as is described in the Jerusalem
Shabbat Ha-Gadol, the Sabbath before
Ancient Yemenite Jewish literature makes no mention of a
for the Sabbath before Passover, rather, the usual
was recited. Only recently have Yemenite Jews begun to
read the haftarah
selection from Malachi, ch. 3, which we customarily
associate with Shabbat
The Evening before the Festival
In the search for leaven on the eve of the 14th
Nisan, the evening before the Seder, Yemenite Jews would look for hametz
– leaven -- by the light of a candle, but would not scatter pieces of
around the house, nor did they use a
Firstborns did not generally fast on
the day preceding the festival, since that day was considered a festive day on
which the pascal offering was sacrificed in the Temple, although the sanctity of
that day was considered somewhat less than the intermediate days of the
The custom of selling hametz
was not observed in Yemen.
The Yemenite Jews would regulate their purchases of hametz
reasonable period prior to the festival and would finish eating all their
by the morning of the first eve of the holiday. Anyone who had a
considerable quantity of dough left over, would sell it outright to a gentile
(i.e. not with the intent of buying it
Several quite ancient customs, originating in the Second
Temple period and mentioned in the Mishnah and the Jerusalem Talmud, survived.
For example, calling haroset
by the name of dukha
, reciting Hallel
in responsive reading and splitting it into sections, and using the formulation
' at the end of the Blessing of Redemption, contrary
to the Babylonian Talmud which requires
Those practices indicative of the influence of Rabbi Saadiah
Gaon and Rabbi Alfasi, which had been widespread in Yemen, have all but
disappeared in recent centuries. Most of the current Seder customs follow
The Yemenites do not prepare a special Seder Plate. Some had
a tradition of drinking five cups of wine for the five verbs of redemption in
Exodus 6:6-8. Two cooked items on the platter (actually three, two varieties of
meat, one roasted and one cooked, and an egg added from Kabbalistic sources)
would be eaten as part of the
Only two matzahs would be used, one of them to be broken in
half prior to the blessings and not at the beginning of the Seder ritual.
According to Maimonides it is not obligatory to put aside the half matzah for
, although this is
"Stealing" or hiding the
was not customary, although, we admit, such a custom is useful
in keeping the children awake.
The festival itself
In Yemen and among the Yemenite Jews in Israel it was
customary to slaughter fowl on the holiday, and certainly on the intermediate
days of the festival. I recall my father of blessed memory, about thirty years
ago, sending me to have a chicken slaughtered by the local shohet in
Shikun Heh of Bnai Berak on the first day of the holiday (yom tov).
Today slaughtering on the holiday has essentially ceased because of a change in
circumstance, insofar as slaughtering is not done daily, but not because
slaughtering on the holiday is intrinsically forbidden.
However, if the chicken was not "fresh-fresh", the matza
certainly was. It was customary to bake matzah throughout the festival, as
attested by a responsum
from the rabbis of San'a, sent in 1910 to the
Yemenite Jews living in Jerusalem.
the Yemenite community in Jerusalem had grown and separated itself from the
. The Yemenite Jews wished to preserve their own
traditions in Jerusalem as well and to celebrate the festival by eating fresh
food including fresh, soft matzah, and not "hard boards." Hence they turned to
the rabbis of San'a with their query.
A widespread practice is to make the blessing over bread over
a matzah and a half throughout the entire festival, in accordance with the
Talmudic explanation (Berakhot
39b): "All admit that on Passover a piece
is placed on (or in) a whole one, and then blessed and eaten. What is the
reason for this? Because it is called 'bread of affliction.'" Passover was
taken to mean all the days of the festival, and not only the Seder
The Yemenites eat all varieties of legumes (kitniyot)
as well as rice throughout the festival, and nowhere did the practice of
abstaining from eating legumes take hold in Yemen. However, all beans and peas
would be meticulously checked before the festival to make sure there were no
grains mixed in with them .
It has been generally known
and agreed of late, so claims Rabbi Isaac Ratzhabi, that Maharitz ruled
according to Maimonides only when the latter's practice accorded with his own,
but in other instances ruled according to the Shulhan Arukh
. For a
detailed discussion of this point see M. Gavra, Hakhmei Yisrael
(Benei Berak 1994), pp. 159-165.
This article does not aim
to list the Yemenites' customs in full detail, rather to note certain customs
unique to Yemen by way of comparison with other communities.
, Ch. 3, at
the end of halakhah
1, from R. J. Kapah, Halikhot Teiman
R. Isaac Ratzhabi,
Shulhan Arukh ha
Part 3, p.
R. J. Kapah, in his edition
of Maimonides, Hilkhot Hametz u
, 3.1; also R.
I. Ratzhabi, loc. sit.
, pp. 7-8.
R. J. Kapah, loc.
, p. 389, and Hilkhot Yom Tov
, p. 198.
R. J. Kapah, loc.
, p. 261; Harav Shlomo Korah, Arikhat
, Part 1, pp. 44-45.
M. Gavra, Mehkarim
Part 1: The Passover Haggadah,
pp. 2-4, 146-153.
Gavra, loc. sit.
pp. 139-141; R. J. Kapah, loc. sit.
Maritz, Siddur Etz
, II, p. 24b; R. Sh. Korah, loc. sit.
, p. 98.
R. J. Kapah,
, p. 22, writes that this is forbidden even for the
sake of performing a commandment. The following anecdote illustrates this
tradition: Around twenty years ago the grandchildren of M. Hayyim Yemini of
blessed memory (my wife's grandfather) hid the afikoman
. When he asked,
"Where is the afikoman
?" the grandchildren answered that they would not
tell him until he promised them a present. He answered that in Yemen it was not
customary to give out presents, and when they did not give him back the
, despite all his begging, M. Hayyim used a different matzah from
the table, and proceeded with the Seder, performing the ritual washing of the
hands and reciting the grace after meals.
Yehudah Levi Nahum,
-Hasifat Ginzei Teiman
R. J. Kapah, Maimonides,
pp. 412-420; R. Sh. Korah, loc. sit.
, p. 99; Tikhlal Etz Hayyim
, II, p. 72-74; R. J. Ratzhabi, loc. sit.