Pesach and Chag HaMatzot – A Two for One?

Introduction

Every year, beginning on the 15th day of Nisan, we joyously commemorate our exodus from Egyptian bondage. We memorialize the Paschal sacrifice, eat matzah, abstain from chametz, and celebrate for seven days (or eight days outside of Israel). Most of us refer to this holiday as Pesach. Yet, a close reading of Shemot 12 suggests that the original Pesach was neither a seven day holiday, nor did it start on the 15th of Nissan. It was rather a one day event, quite distinct from the seven day holiday referred to in the verses as Chag HaMatzot.

What is the relationship between these two institutions of Pesach and Chag HaMatzot, and when did they merge and become a single entity?1 What historical factors may have been involved in this transformation?

The Biblical Evidence

An examination of all of the Biblical verses which mention either Pesach or Chag HaMatzot, indicates that they are two distinct entities:2

Mid 2nd Temple Period

Early post-Biblical sources also distinguish between Pesach and Chag HaMatzot. However, they present both as holidays.5

Late 2nd Temple Through Today

In this stage, there is a blurring of the lines distinguishing the two holidays, and their names become interchangeable.

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