The Mekhilta

Halakhic Midrash on Exodus.

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Said R. Josiah to him: This passage as well as that one deals with both the Passover of Egypt and the Passover of subsequent generations. Why, then, does Scripture have to say: "According to all the statutes of it, and according to all the ordinances thereof?" It merely aims to teach thereby that even those laws which are omitted (from those passages) in the regulations for the Passover of subsequent generations (but which are stated in the regulations about the first Passover) are applicable to it. R. Isi the son of Akiba says: This ordinance prescribed for the Passover applies only to the body of the paschal lamb.

There Shall No Alien Eat Thereof, meaning both an apostate Jew and a Gentile, for it is said: "Thus saith the Lord God: No alien, uncircumcised in heart and uncircumcised in flesh, shall enter into My sanctuary, even any alien that is among the children of Israel" (Ezekiel 44:9).

But Every Man's Servant (that is Bought for Money)…(Exodus 12:44a): From this I would know only about the servant of a man. How about the servant of a woman or a minor? Scripture says: "That is bought for money," no matter who owns him.

When Thou Hast Circumcised Him, Then Shall He Eat Thereof. (12:44b)

"He" refers to the master. This tells that failure to circumcise one's slaves debars one from partaking of the paschal lamb. So far I know only about the circumcision of slaves. How about the circumcision of free males? You can reason as follows: The expression--"then" (az) is used here and the expression "then" (az) is used further on (v. 48). Just as further on it refers to the circumcision of free males, so here it refers also to the circumcision of free males. And just as here it refers to the circumcision of slaves, so there it refers also to the circumcision of slaves--these are the words of R. Eliezer.

R. Ishmael says: Failure to circumcise one's slaves does not debar one from partaking of the paschal lamb. Why then is it said: "When thou hast circumcised him"? Suppose a man has uncircumcised slaves. How would you know that if he wishes to circumcise them and let them partake of the paschal lamb, he is permitted to do so? Scripture, therefore, says: "When thou hast circumcised him; then shall he eat thereof."

And we do find that one is permitted to keep uncircumcised slaves, for it is said: "And the son of thy handmaid, and the stranger may be refreshed" (Exodus 23.12). R. Eliezer says: One is not permitted to keep uncircumcised slaves, for it says: "And thou shalt circumcise him." If so, why then does Scripture need to say: "And the son of thy handmaid, and the stranger may be refreshed?" It is merely for this: Suppose his master bought him Friday afternoon towards nightfall, so that he had not sufficient time to circumcise him before it got dark. It is for such a case that Scripture says: "And the son of thy handmaid . . . may be refreshed."

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Jacob Zallel Lauterbach (1873-1942) was an American Judaica scholar and author who served on the faculty of Hebrew Union College and composed responsa for the Reform movement in America. He specialized in Midrashic and Talmudical literature, and is best known for his landmark critical edition and English translation of the Mekilta de-Rabbi Ishmael.