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Ask many a grade-schooler (and many an adult, for that matter) what animal the korban pesach is, and he'll tell you "a sheep".[1]

In fact, it can be a sheep or a goat. (It's explicit in chumash (pesach MItzrayim) and halacha (pesach doros).)

Do we have some tradition (or historical evidence) that it was usually a sheep? If not, how did it happen that people associate the korban with a sheep?


[1] I have no empirical evidence to offer as far as asking people: it's just my impression. But all I can find using Google (that discusses the pesach as a goat without mentioning that it can be a sheep) is discussing individual cases in which someone brought a goat (including, of course, the case in parashas Tol'dos), plus one blog post. On the other hand, there is much mention of the pesach as a sheep without mentioning that it can be a goat; see e.g. a vbm-torah.org article and a torah.org article.

  • Btw, I imagine that the sheep was more common than the goat, because Sheep tastes better. – avi Feb 25 '12 at 17:05
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    @SethJ, we have the statement of the kohen gadol Yissachar Ish Kfar Barkai (Pesachim 57a-b/Kerisus 28b) that indeed sheep tastes better. (Although he did lose his hand for that impertinence, and the Gemara goes on to point out that he didn't know what he was talking about. Neither is true of... – Alex Feb 27 '12 at 2:08
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    ...what @avi wrote! – Alex Feb 27 '12 at 2:09
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+50

See Tosfos "me'alyah", Pesachim 3b, where it says most were sheep.

Background: A non-Jew came and told R' Yehuda ben Beseirah that he routinely goes to Jerusalem to eat from the Korban Pesach (which is forbidden to non-Jews). R' Yehuda wasn't going to Jerusalem himself, and so couldn't notify the Jews there. So he came up with a plan for the non-Jew to get himself caught. R' Yehuda told him that next time, if he really wants to "stick it to 'em", he should ask for the best part: the tail-fat. When the non-Jew did so, they busted him, since the tail-fat of a lamb is burnt on the altar and is forbidden to be eaten.

Tosfos explains that even though the tail-fat of a kid-goat isn't burned (and so the non-Jew might have gotten away with it, if the sacrifice he was part of would have been a kid-goat), R' Yehuda knew he would get caught, since the lamb is the more common sacrifice.

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Many references to the korban pesach do refer to it as a goat, not a sheep. For instance, the mishna in Beitza (chapter 2, mishna 7) refers to a גדי מקולס (roast kid) that shouldn't be made on pesach since it would be too similar to the korban.

Also, the goat in the song chad gadya presumably is referring to the goat in the korban, besides more symbolic allusions.

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  • Good info, thanks, but I don't see how it answers the question. Did you mean it as a comment on the question? – msh210 Feb 26 '12 at 21:14
  • I guess I meant to challenge the premise of the question. Maybe it would have been more appropriate as a comment. – Avi Feb 26 '12 at 22:12
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    A Gadi can refer to any young cattle, not just goats. – avi Feb 27 '12 at 6:39
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    @avi, in chumash, yes. Is that still true in l'shon Chazal? – msh210 Feb 27 '12 at 6:51
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    @msh210 good point, no idea. – avi Feb 27 '12 at 6:54

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