Bo 5770:Circumcised for Passover

I have a question, but no answer, Can you help? I began by investigating one word, but it took me indirections I didn’t plan.

This week we have the last three plagues, locusts, darkness, and finally the death of the first born. Before the last plague hits, however, there is a lot of preparation done beforehand. God gives a set of directions to first chain up then kill a lamb as an assembly, eating it all in the night of the plague, and spreading its blood on the doorposts of the houses of the Israelite so to indicate whose house to pass over. Further instructions mentioned not eating leavened foods for seven days and eating Matzah instead. This was the first Passover. After the Israelites leave we read.

17. And you shall observe the Feast of Unleavened Bread; for in this same day have I brought your armies out of the land of Egypt; therefore shall you observe this day in your generations by an ordinance forever. 18. In the first month, on the fourteenth day of the month at evening, you shall eat unleavened bread, until the twenty first day of the month at evening.
19. Seven days shall there be no leaven found in your houses; for whoever eats that which is leavened, that soul shall be cut off from the congregation of Israel, whether he is a stranger, or born in the land. 20. You shall eat nothing leavened; in all your habitations shall you eat unleavened bread. [Exodus 12]

The people leave Egypt, and shortly after they camp for the night, God says to them:

43. And the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, This is the ordinance of the Passover; No stranger shall eat of it; 44. But every man’s servant who is bought for money, when you have circumcised him, then shall he eat of it. 45. A foreigner and a hired servant shall not eat of it. 46. In one house shall it be eaten; you shall not carry anything of the meat out of the house; neither shall you break a bone of it. 47. All the congregation of Israel shall keep it. 48. And when a stranger shall sojourn with you, and will keep the Passover to the Lord, let all his males be circumcised, and then let him come near and keep it; and he shall be as one who is born in the land; for no uncircumcised person shall eat of it. 49. One law shall be for him who is native born, and for the stranger who sojourns among you. [Exodus 12]

Three words stuck out. Uncircumcised(ערל) stranger גר and alien נכר Now I have problems with these words since my own family’s passover celebrations often include non Jews. What’s more, while we may not be completely observant, I’ve been to Orthodox Seders where there were non-Jews present. They are, to say the least, a lot of fun. What is the case here, and what is and isn’t allowed for particularly the uncircumcised? What does Uncircumcised mean, and why are they prohibited from eating the passover sacrifice?

King David, interestingly, mentions it in two circumstances. Once before he takes down Goliath:

26. And David spoke to the men who stood by him, saying, What shall be done to the man who kills this Philistine, and takes away the reproach from Israel? for who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should defy the armies of the living God?[I Sam 17]

36. Your servant slew both the lion and the bear; and this uncircumcised Philistine shall be as one of them, seeing he has defied the armies of the living God.

After this, he never uses the term again, until he eulogises Saul, disparaging those who defeated and desecrated Saul’s body.

19. The beauty, O Israel, is slain upon your high places; how are the mighty fallen!
20. Tell it not in Gath, proclaim it not in the streets of Ashkelon; lest the daughters of the Philistines rejoice, lest the daughters of the uncircumcised triumph.[II Sam 1]

Interestingly during the entire time he was on the run form Saul, flitting in and out of Philistine territory and even settling in Ziklag under the philistines, he never use this term. It seems to be a derogatory term for foreigner. Ezekiel also seems to use such a term as foreign.

Yet the rabbinic Aramaic version Targum Jonathan to the Torah adds to circumcised not able to eat the passover sacrifice, “the uncircumcised who are Jews”, a reflection found in the Talmud as well. This refers back to Genesis 17:14 notes that a male born of Jewish parents if not circumcised is to be cut off from his people since he broke the covenant. The ancient rabbis seem to have played on that to understand what is uncircumcised.

I for one have not come up up with any good answers here, but do have questions:

  • What does uncircumcised mean?
  • What is being foreign in this context?
  • Does foreign really prohibit participation in Passover?
  • Does foreign really prohibit participation in Jewish ritual in general?
  • What is the line of prohibition of participation?
  • If you feel passionately about this, why do you feel that way?

I’ve gotten some really interesting answers, now I’d like yours.


Trainer, App developer. Author. Artist. Proprietor of and Host of Slice of App Pie Show

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