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.

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    Perhaps because much ado is made that the first Korban Pesach was an Egyptian god--the sheep. – Hod - Monica's Army Feb 16 '12 at 22:42
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    @HodofHod, do you have a source for much ado's being made of the Egyptian god's being a sheep (but not much ado over their god's being a goat)? Or a source for the Egyptian god's being a sheep (but not a goat)? I don't recall ever seeing either of those. – msh210 Feb 16 '12 at 22:54
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    Whoops! A Google search turns up information from Jewish and historical sources saying that the Egyptians worshiped sheep and goats (and a bunch of other stuff besides). – Hod - Monica's Army Feb 16 '12 at 23:59
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    Perhaps the Jews thought that if they called it the "paschal kid" people would get the wrong idea. ;-D #bloodlibel #purimtorah – Hod - Monica's Army Feb 17 '12 at 17:46
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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

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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  • Well then Tos. isn't the source. Tos. merely gives us a link to further trace the history. (To be fair, @msh210 didn't ask for a source, but some documented history, which this provides in a way.) Your original language sounded like you were providing a source. – Seth J Apr 12 '13 at 4:32
  • @SethJ It is a source; a source that directly answers the question of "Do we have some tradition (or historical evidence) that it was usually a sheep?" – Hod - Monica's Army Apr 12 '13 at 4:40
  • A source would be someone who was there, like Hillel. – Seth J Apr 12 '13 at 4:48
  • It links the tradition further back, as i've conceded. – Seth J Apr 12 '13 at 4:55

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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