The Four Questions Or The Three Questions
The four questions that are found in the Haggadah are borrowed from a Mishna in the Babylonian Talmud Tractate Pesachim Chapter 10, Mishna 4. The Jerusalem Talmud Tractate Pesachim Chapter 10 provides for a different set of questions: Why is this night of Passover different than all other nights? On all other nights we dip food only once while on this night we dip some food twice. On all other nights we eat leaven and unleavened bread while on this night we eat only unleavened bread. On all other nights we may eat meat that is roasted, boiled or cooked while on this night, we only eat meat that has been roasted.
The third question found in the Jerusalem Talmud leads many to argue that the questions found in the Jerusalem Talmud were asked only while the Second Temple was standing. The basis for their argument is that most Jews today follow the practice of abstaining from eating roasted meat at the Seder. That is based on a concern expressed by our Sages that some present at the Seder might mistakenly think that the roasted meat they are eating at the Seder is a substitute for the paschal lamb. That sacrifice could be prepared by only one method of cooking; i.e. by roasting it.
Thanks to the discovery in the 1880’s of a Geniza, a place where old Jewish books were placed to await burial, located in the attic of a synagogue in Cairo, we now know that Jews who followed the customs of Eretz Yisroel during the Middle Ages deliberately ate roasted meat at the Seder. That practice was in conflict with the customs of the Babylonian Sages who prohibited the eating of roasted meat ate the Seder. What lay behind this conflict? The Jews who lived in Eretz Yisroel felt a much closer connection to the Second Temple than did the Jews of Babylonia. The Jews in Eretz Yisroel believed that if they maintained as many of the customs of the Temple as they could, they would be demonstrating to G-d that they were ready to have G-d bring the Moshiach and to cause the rebuilding of the Temple.
The Jews of Babylonia expressed a different attitude. Being Jews who had lived in the Diaspora for many centuries, they had adjusted to not being able to participate in the Temple activities. They had a concern that following the customs of the Temple even after it had been destroyed as a means of hastening the coming of the Moshiach and the rebuilding of the Temple could lead to the rise of false Messiahs. They were not totally wrong. Many believed that Bar Kochva, the great military leader who led the second century CE rebellion against the Romans in Eretz Yisroel, was in fact the Messiah.
One of the findings in the Geniza was the Haggadah that was recited by Jews who lived in Cairo in the 1200’s and who followed the customs of Eretz Yisroel. The three questions provided in the Jerusalem Talmud were the questions that opened the Seder for those Jews. That is evidence that as late as the 1200’s, a group of Jews continued to follow the customs of Eretz Yisroel and deliberately ate roasted meat at the Seder as a substitute for the Paschal lamb in the hope of hastening the coming of the Moshiach and the rebuilding of the Temple.