Pesach sheni

by Michael Baxter

Pesach Sheni, the 14th of Iyar, is one of the most obscure festivals in the Jewish calendar.  What is its significance?  In Sidra Beha'alosecha, we read that the Israelites were commanded to make the Pesach sacrifice on the 14th day of the first month, which we now call Nisan.  Some people asked Moses what they should do as they were unclean due to a dead body and therefore were not allowed to make a sacrifice.  Hashem told Moses that they should make the sacrifice a month later, namely on what we now call 14th Iyar.

 

This passage is also the Torah reading for the fourth day of Chol Hamoed Pesach.  Do we read it on Pesach Sheni itself?  No, there is no special reading for that day.  If it happens to fall on Monday, we read the start of the following week's Sidra, as we normally do on Mondays.  Pesach Sheni can never fall on Tuesday, Thursday or Shabbos.  If it falls on one of the other possible days, Sunday, Wednesday or Friday, there is no Torah reading.  Why is there no special reading?  Special Torah readings mark public occasions, but even if we had a Temple and could bring the Pesach sacrifice, only a small minority of people would observe Pesach Sheni so it counts as a private event and has no Torah reading.  Similarly, the Fast of the Firstborn only affects some people, so it is a private event and we do not have the normal prayers or Torah reading for fast days.

 

Pesach Sheni is of course during the Omer.  But while the post-Biblical festival of Lag b'Omer is important enough to suspend or terminate the Omer mourning, Pesach Sheni has no such effect; all the Omer laws still apply.  Again, on Lag b'Omer we omit Tachanun.  The major Jewish law codes do not mention omitting Tachanun on Pesach Sheni.  Indeed, Pri Megadim explicitly states that our custom is to say Tachanun on this day.  So it seems that Pesach Sheni is a complete nonentity of a festival.

 

However, Jewish mystics did attach some significance to it, and they started various customs such as eating matza to stress its similarity to Pesach.  As a result, most Sephardim do omit Tachanun on that day, even though the Shulchan Aruch does not mention it and Sephardim tend to follow the Shulchan Aruch strictly.  The Aruch haShulchan, a code of law written in the 1880s, says "And Pesach Sheni is not regarded (as a day for omission) and this is a wonder, and the Sephardi custom is not to say it."

 

Curiously though, even most people who omit Tachanun on Pesach Sheni do say it at Mincha on the day before, whereas usually Tachanun is omitted at Mincha before days when it is omitted at Shacharis, such as Rosh Chodesh, Purim and indeed Lag b'Omer.  This seems to reflect uncertainty about whether it should be omitted or not.

 

In Israel most Ashkenazim, under Sephardi influence, omit Tachanun as well.  In a very recent development, since the 1970s, one or two Ashkenazi authorities have said that it should be omitted even outside Israel, such as the Concise Code of Jewish Law by Gersion Appel, published in 1977.  But that is not Minhag Anglia as given in all four editions of the Authorised Daily Prayer Book, so we do not omit Tachanun.  So indeed, for us here, Pesach Sheni is a non-event.

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