Sacrifice and History

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The sacrificial order that plays such a prominent role in Biblical Judaism is explained by Rambam in a way that raises many eyebrows. His rational-historical approach renders the worship a relic of ancient history. However, it is precisely that aspect which makes the ritual so meaningful.

Rambam (Moreh Nevukhim 3:32) contends that the sacrificial service was intended to wean the Jewish people from idolatry. Rather than sacrifice animals to idols, they could only offer sacrifices to God in a specific place for specific reasons. In other words, sacrifices are a concession, a clever plan to benefit ancient Israelites.

Ramban (Lev. 1:9) strenuously objects to this approach. While it is clear, as Ritva (Sefer Ha-Zikaron, ch. 9) points out, that Ramban misread Rambam, his response is still cogent. Ramban points out that, according to Rambam, sacrifices have no inherent value. Yet the Bible seems to contradict that in a number of places. Most importantly, it renders the sacred acts a meaningless ruse. Rather, Ramban contends, sacrifices have great importance to each individual, reminding sinners of the severity of their transgressions.

Some later thinkers defends Rambam’s approach in one way or another (see Nehama Leibowitz, New Studies in Vayikra, chs. 1-2). However, they cannot remove his approach’s key weakness. According to the Rambam, sacrifices lack inherent meaning. True, they direct your worship, prayers and hopes to God. Your sacrifice is surely accompanied with your prayers and the entire process serves to centralize your focus to God. But the acts themselves are relics of an ancient time. When the sacrifices are renewed in the Messianic Era, what will we think on the rare occasion we bring our own sacrifice to the Temple? How will the priests come to terms with their duties during their one week of Temple service every six months?

I propose that Judaism’s connection to the past is its strength, not its weakness. When we eat matzah and maror, drink four cups of wine and tell the Exodus story to our family, we are bringing the past into our present. We are remembering our origins so that their lessons will direct us in the present. Abba Kovner said, and Nachum Segal repeats every day, that we must “remember the past, live in the present and trust in the future.” Without giving the past its due, we would fail to use it as a guide to the future. Pesach is about embracing the past as a tool. So, according to the Rambam, are sacrifices.

From its start, Judaism was a protest against idolatry. Judaism’s main, but certainly not sole, contribution to civilization was monotheism. Avraham introduced it to the world and much of the Bible recounts the Jewish people’s struggles to maintain loyalty to it. We succeeded and have remained committed to it for millennia, even undergoing martyrdom for it. Like the beginning of Maggid in the Haggadah (“In the beginning our forefathers were idol worshipers”), sacrifices remind us that Judaism has always been a revolt against polytheism. It is a sign of the core religious belief and a commemoration of the long struggle to uphold it. As such, sacrifices are extremely meaningful, even at a time where very few pagans exist.

About Gil Student

Rabbi Gil Student is the Editor of TorahMusings.com, a leading website on Orthodox Jewish scholarly subjects, and the Book Editor of the Orthodox Union’s Jewish Action magazine. He writes a popular column on issues of Jewish law and thought featured in newspapers and magazines, including The Jewish Link, The Jewish Echo and The Vues. In the past, he has served as the President of the small Jewish publisher Yashar Books and as the Managing Editor of OU Press. Rabbi Student has served two terms on the Executive Committee of the Rabbinical Council of America and currently serves as the Director of the Halacha Commission of the Rabbinical Alliance of America. He serves on the Editorial Boards of Jewish Action magazine, the Journal of Halacha and Contemporary Society and the Achieve Journal of Behavioral Health, Religion & Community, as well as the Board of OU Press. He has published five English books, the most recent titled Search Engine volume 2: Finding Meaning in Jewish Texts -- Jewish Leadership, and served as the American editor for Morasha Kehillat Yaakov: Essays in Honour of Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks.

57 comments

  1. I propose that Judaism’s connection to the past is its strength, not its weakness.

    I agree. When I was younger I had great difficulty with the way in which the Korbanot are written into our liturgy. As I’ve grown older, I am still on Rambam’s side of this machloket, but I also value the connection to the past enabled by that liturgy.

    according to Rambam, sacrifices have no inherent value. Yet the Bible seems to contradict that in a number of places

    I am not convinced that sacrifices had (note tense change) no inherent value. They did. But, if one includes the Nevi’im, there are passages that could indicate that sacrifices, in and of themselves, are not sufficient – which supports the notion they are enablers for serving God more than they are inherent to serving God.

    And the fact remains that for 1,943 years we have found a way to serve God without cultic sacrifices. We call it (Rabbinic) Judaism.

  2. “according to Rambam, sacrifices have no inherent value.”

    I disagree. It does not seem to me that the Rambam finds the sacrifices lacking intrinsic value. Look at the end of that section, where he makes the removal of sacrificial worship for the ancient Israelites analogous to the removal of prayer for us nowadays. Do you think he’s arguing that prayer is also inherently useless? I don’t think so.

  3. R’ Aryeh S, you should read the Rambam in the guide in the 3rd Chelek chapter 26 (I think) where he basically says that prayers have no inherent value. They serve merely as a means to instill within the masses an understanding that g-d is mashgiach on the world.

  4. Fantastic post! Too many people try to “explain away” Rambam’s view to make it non-controversial, even though he himself explicitly states that it is controversial.

  5. See the Meshech Chochmah on P. Vayikra where he is machriah the machloket bet. Rambam & Ramban as to the purpose of korbanot.

  6. for a more nuanced view of the rambam’s position (including multiple sources within the rambam besides the famous moreh quote) listen here:
    http://www.yutorah.org/lectures/lecture.cfm/791728/Rabbi_Netanel_Wiederblank/Rambam's_controversial_reason_for_the_reason_for_korbanos
    Rabbi Netanel Wiederblank -Rambam’s controversial reason for the reason for korbanos

    apparently the rambam is sometimes a complex thinker and teacher (surprise!)
    KT

  7. shachar haamim

    “When the sacrifices are renewed in the Messianic Era”

    Is the Messianic Era sine qua non for the renewal of sacrifices?

  8. We may no longer need weaning away from worshipping idols, but we do need weaning away from many things. Many (most?) observant Jews devote an inordinate amount of time to preposterous superstitions, segulahs, burbling tehillim as a magic incantation, chasing innocent birds away from their nest, visiting kevarim (often at great cost) and other tomfoolery. At Pesach, people fill the void with bizarre and inane humroth like not broching, not eating dairy, not eating any vegetable that can’t be peeled, not eating garlic, eating matzah over a plastic bag before anxiously scraping the tablecloth, not eating matzah for a month before Pesach, eating gross burnt matzah, jetcleaning your bins etc. (in the interests of honesty, we should really include kitniyoth in this category).

    Why? The obvious answer is because we feel a cultic void in out individual and community lives and we try to fill it with something, anything. What we should be filling it with is what G-d commanded us to fill it with, namely korbanoth. Sacrifices may be inherently meaningless, but no less so than a lot of we get up to and at least there’s a certain majesty to the whole thing. We have to get over certain Christian/Stoic cultural prejudices that suggest killing an animal and burning some or all of it is terrifyingly primitive, but, say, burning incense is not, but that shouldn’t be too hard.

  9. The Dude: The Meshekh Chokhmah does not solve the problem.

    Gabriel: I agree and was debating whether to go in that direction in this post.

  10. Aryeh S: I believe the Rambam considered sacrifices valuable but not inherently so. Although perhaps I will change my view after listening to R. Wiederblank

  11. Shachar: This is an old debate. The majority view is that, at most, we can only bring the korban Pesach in the pre-Messianic Era. The literature in response to R. Kalischer’s Derishas Tziyon is vast.

  12. Let me re-phrase. Is the “messianic era” sine qua non for building the temple?

    I assume that you are suggesting that one needs the temple for the other korbanot. For Pesach it is pretty clear that we don’t.

  13. Yes, we need a navi in order to rebuild the Temple.

  14. What about the Rambam in Hilchos Meilos? I believe there is a lot of discussion as to tenstion between that statement and the his in the MV?

  15. For Pesach it is pretty clear that we don’t.

    And, indeed there is evidence that the Korban Pesach ritual survived Churban Bayit Sheni for a period of time before dying out. Which raises the question of why the Rabbinic leaders allowed it to die out rather than maintaining the one annual sacrifice that was not dependent on Beit ha’Mikdash.

  16. Fair enough. But if it’s just about connecting to the past, why that piece of the past? I suppose you could say that it reminds us of our lowly origins, not just materially, butspiritually as well.

  17. william gewirtz

    i do not know if it is anthropologically or historically accurate, but Prof. Halbertal’s explanation (first half of “on Sacrifice”) of the various biblical narratives and the rabbinic substitutes for sacrifice, adds significantly to this discussion.

  18. R Gil-the Meshech Chachmah’s view ( which one also find in HaEmek Davar as well), is quite relevant for Korban Pesach, which was clearly commanded and offered as a means of weaning Klal Yisrael off of Avodah Zarah. That being asid, the bottom line, IMO, is the following portion of this post:

    “Rambam (Moreh Nevukhim 3:32) contends that the sacrificial service was intended to wean the Jewish people from idolatry. Rather than sacrifice animals to idols, they could only offer sacrifices to God in a specific place for specific reasons. In other words, sacrifices are a concession, a clever plan to benefit ancient Israelites.

    Ramban (Lev. 1:9) strenuously objects to this approach. While it is clear, as Ritva (Sefer Ha-Zikaron, ch. 9) points out, that Ramban misread Rambam, his response is still cogent. Ramban points out that, according to Rambam, sacrifices have no inherent value. Yet the Bible seems to contradict that in a number of places. Most importantly, it renders the sacred acts a meaningless ruse. Rather, Ramban contends, sacrifices have great importance to each individual, reminding sinners of the severity of their transgressions.

    Some later thinkers defends Rambam’s approach in one way or another (see Nehama Leibowitz, New Studies in Vayikra, chs. 1-2). However, they cannot remove his approach’s key weakness. According to the Rambam, sacrifices lack inherent meaning. True, they direct your worship, prayers and hopes to God. Your sacrifice is surely accompanied with your prayers and the entire process serves to centralize your focus to God. But the acts themselves are relics of an ancient time. When the sacrifices are renewed in the Messianic Era, what will we think on the rare occasion we bring our own sacrifice to the Temple? How will the priests come to terms with their duties during their one week of Temple service every six months?

    I propose that Judaism’s connection to the past is its strength, not its weakness. When we eat matzah and maror, drink four cups of wine and tell the Exodus story to our family, we are bringing the past into our present. We are remembering our origins so that their lessons will direct us in the present. Abba Kovner said, and Nachum Segal repeats every day, that we must “remember the past, live in the present and trust in the future.” Without giving the past its due, we would fail to use it as a guide to the future. Pesach is about embracing the past as a tool. So, according to the Rambam, are sacrifices.”

  19. IH wrote in part:

    “I am not convinced that sacrifices had (note tense change) no inherent value. They did. But, if one includes the Nevi’im, there are passages that could indicate that sacrifices, in and of themselves, are not sufficient – which supports the notion they are enablers for serving God more than they are inherent to serving God.

    And the fact remains that for 1,943 years we have found a way to serve God without cultic sacrifices. We call it (Rabbinic) Judaism”

    Look at it this way. The Mishkan, as well as the Beis HaMikdash, was supposed to be a daily replica of Maamad Har Sinai, and place for a daily encounter with HaShem. When that purpose was perverted , the Mikdash ceased to serve its value, but HaShem spared the Jewish People, as the Divine Wrath was spent on wood and stones. That is why the Talmud tells us that since the Churban, HaShem’s place can only be found in the four cubits of Halacha.

  20. “Look at it this way. The Mishkan, as well as the Beis HaMikdash, was supposed to be a daily replica of Maamad Har Sinai, and place for a daily encounter with HaShem. When that purpose was perverted , the Mikdash ceased to serve its value, but HaShem spared the Jewish People, as the Divine Wrath was spent on wood and stones. That is why the Talmud tells us that since the Churban, HaShem’s place can only be found in the four cubits of Halacha.”

    I saw in the Bible Lands Museum that the mishkan was a portable egyptian temple which was taken out of egypt along with the rest of the booty mentioned in Exodus.

  21. “Yes, we need a navi in order to rebuild the Temple.”

    there are so many sources that go against that that I’m actually surprised you wrote that flat out
    maybe we need a melech to build the mikdash.
    maybe we need melech hamoshiach to build the mikdash.
    maybe we only need permission of the ruling authority in the land (see minchas chinuch 95).
    but that we need a navi? not too many sources…

    and even so I’ll still rephrase

    Is the “messianic era” sine qua non for the return of prophecy?

  22. >In other words, sacrifices are a concession, a clever plan to benefit ancient Israelites.

    How well did that work out?

  23. The Mishkan, as well as the Beis HaMikdash, was supposed to be a daily replica of Maamad Har Sinai, and place for a daily encounter with HaShem.

    Nice D’rash. But, we have managed for 1,943 years to find places for a daily encounter with HaShem.

    How well did that work out?

    I was thinking along the same lines reading Gabriel’s comment that imagines having Korbanot will eliminate “preposterous superstitions”. A reading of Tanach readily disproves that hypothesis.

  24. Rabbi Ari Kahn has a good shiur which addresses this machlokes and where he debunks the notion that Rav Kook held on grain offerings would be brought in the third temple. http://www.yutorah.org/lectures/lecture.cfm/791463/Rabbi_Ari_Kahn/Introduction_to_Vayikra-_Whither_Korbanot-

    at IM we have existed for millennium without many mitzvot associated with the temple, what does that prove?

    I think we are often guilty of the “My modern sensibilities don’t like this thing so then God must not have really meant it to apply to us today” mentality.

  25. We have existed for millenia without many mitzvot associated with living in Eretz Israel. And now that we can, everyone is running to make Aliya so they can fulfill them?

    If the 3rd Beit ha’Mikdash is completed later this year, will all observant Jews then make Aliyah?

  26. @IH I think there is a difference between proving the meaning of something and the reality which people embrace. Just because something has meaning doesn’t mean all embrace that fact, and vice versa.

    If the 3rd Beit ha’Mikdash is completed later this year all observant Jews will come to be oleh l’regel, otherwise I’m not sure they would classify as observant 🙂

  27. Is that what happened during Bayit Sheini (all observant Jews were oleh l’regel)?

  28. >I was thinking along the same lines reading Gabriel’s comment that imagines having Korbanot will eliminate “preposterous superstitions”. A reading of Tanach readily disproves that hypothesis.

    One wonders if Rambam read the same Tanakh.

  29. Agav, this gets to be a very dicey affair because to reconcile Rabbinic Judaism as we know it, with a return to Temple Sacrifices, one increasingly needs to rely on Talmudic Aggadah to have your cake and eat it too.

    Fleshing this out is way beyond the scope of a blog, but I posit it as food for offline thought.

  30. I could never understand this Rambam. Not many mitzvot are labeled as being “ad olam, l’doroto”

    I can’t see how a specific phrased used to tell you that these laws will be for all generations, is ignored and instead we are told this was a temporary learning process.

  31. ” And now that we can, everyone is running to make Aliya so they can fulfill them?”

    Not everyone, but certainly a majority of those who keep Shabbat.

  32. I was surprised, after Gabriel’s diatribe against certain cherished Jewish practices, to see “Hirhurim” (R’ Student?) say: I agree. He (Gabriel) callously denigrates tehillim-zoggers as “burbling as a magic incantation.” Have not simple pious Jews for hundreds of years turned to the immortal words of Tehillim to utilize its way of speaking to Hashem? Maybe we don’t always have kavvanah when we’re saying Tehillim, but who does always have kavvanah while davening? Of course we need to put the proper thought into our avodah. But Gabriel’s whole tone, which disturbed me, is demeaning and dismissive, as if, the careless, thoughtless babbling of pesukim is endemic to our frum culture today. Every person is on a different level, as has always been the case. Additionally, calling not eating matzah for a month a crazy chumrah? This is simply a minhag to increase chavivus ha-mitzvah on leil Pesach. If you don’t like it, don’t do it (I don’t). Why make fun? And kitniyos? SERIOUSLY? I guess we might as well toss out all our ancient minhagim.

  33. In a shiur on this subject R Ahron Soloveichik cited the posuk in V’ayikra 17:7 as the source for the Rambam.
    וְלֹא-יִזְבְּחוּ עוֹד, אֶת-זִבְחֵיהֶם, לַשְּׂעִירִם, אֲשֶׁר הֵם זֹנִים אַחֲרֵיהֶם:
    He explained that man has an internal drive to bring “sacrifices”. The Torah wanted to legislate that drive

  34. IH wrote in part:

    “The Mishkan, as well as the Beis HaMikdash, was supposed to be a daily replica of Maamad Har Sinai, and place for a daily encounter with HaShem.

    Nice D’rash. But, we have managed for 1,943 years to find places for a daily encounter with HaShem”

    Actually-see Ramban in Parshas Terumah-I forgot to mention that as my source.

  35. IH asked:

    “Is that what happened during Bayit Sheini (all observant Jews were oleh l’regel)?

    No-actually, only a small minority of Jews during Bayis Sheni either moved back from Bavel to EY or were Oleh LRegel. The Talmud in Yoma also draws a contrast between Bayis Sheni and Bayis Rishon that led some old timers who remembered Bayis Rishon to cry when they saw Bayis Sheni.

  36. OG-Yasher Koach on a well reasoned response.

  37. IH wrote:

    “Agav, this gets to be a very dicey affair because to reconcile Rabbinic Judaism as we know it, with a return to Temple Sacrifices, one increasingly needs to rely on Talmudic Aggadah to have your cake and eat it too.”

    Yet, great Talmidei Chachamim wrote sefarim on Seder Kodshim-with the CC’s Likueti Halachos, being just one of many such works. While we don’t have the works of a lot of Rishonim on Kodshim, in many instances, where a sugya relating to Kodshim , Issurei Kehunah, or Tumaah vTahara is discussed elsewhere in Shas, one can find discussions by the Rishonim and Acharonim there. Obviously, such study remains theoretical in the absence of full control and access to the Har HaBayis, but such study clearly underwent a renaissance in no small importance to the renaissance of Jewish life in an organized and sovereign manner in the Land of Israel, and especially after the Six Day War.

  38. Avi: Rambam explicitly and repeatedly states that korbanos is NOT a temporary mitzvah.

    OG: I had more segulos in mind but See Mishneh Torah, Hilkhos Avodah Zarah 11:12 for permissible and forbidden ways to recite Tehillim.

  39. Shmuel 2: Everyone quotes that pasuk and Abarbanel quotes a Midrash on that pasuk with a parable that supports the Rambam, although R. David Tzvi Hoffmann disputes its relevance. All this is in Nehama Leibowitz.

  40. Given the carnage we watch in movies and TV can we really say that bloodlust and the desire to see something slaughtered is only a relic of the ancient past?

  41. IH
    “I was thinking along the same lines reading Gabriel’s comment that imagines having Korbanot will eliminate “preposterous superstitions”. A reading of Tanach readily disproves that hypothesis.”

    What I said was that korbanot provide an outlet for a deep-seated need for cultic activity that currently finds an outlet in, say, staying up all night on Shavuoth or saying parshath haMan on the (third? I forget)) day of Beshalach. or eating 15 fruits on Tub Bishvat (none of which I consider preposterous, per se., I might add ,though fidelity to them in the face of more pressing concerns like not being zonked out of your mind for yom tov lunch is). Obviously it didn’t work at combatting idolatry, but then as the Rambam explains, and is really quite obvious, much of the Torah is sustained, lived polemic against idolatry and none of it worked. Why the Torah did not achieve its central purpose until the daily system of tefilot, brachot etc. were aded to it is a very interesting question and if we knew the answer exactly we could write the conclusion to Jewish philosophy. [I see Holy Hyrax made my point for me already]

    OG
    You are correct, my tone was off. Nevertheless…

    “Maybe we don’t always have kavvanah when we’re saying Tehillim, but who does always have kavvanah while davening?”

    Davening without kavana even once is a terrible thing. The need to keep up the thrice daily cycle eventually led to the conclusion that we can rely lechatchilah on the kula that you don’t have to re-daven a cavana-less tefillah, to which was added the rationale that “we” do not have cavanah anymore, which has become a self-fulfilling excuse. However, with tehillim, for which there is hova to say, you should certainly not say them without kavana. What exactly are we to make of people who try to help a sick person by babbling lines like “may his children be fatherles and his wife a widow” confident that the magic letters will effect a remedy. If you are a simple, pious yid, say a honest prayer that you mean, in a language you understand, like the mishnah says.

    Anyway, my point was simple. The absence of korbanoth have obviously created a void that Jews have sought to fill with all sorts of things some innocent, some inane, and some extremely dubious. I don’t think it’s remotely an accident that we see this in its most intense form on Pesach. As regards kitniyot, since I was brought up with it I don’t find it weird, but the fact is it is weird, really weird to take a whole class of foods that Hashem and Chazal permit and declare them forbidden. Why did we do this to ourselves? I think the answer is as I have suggested.

  42. shachar haamim, the best biblical source for requiring a prophet to guide the building of a bet hamikdash is the verse in Exodus, “according to all that I show you, the form of the Mishkan and the form of all its objects, and that is what you should do (vechain ta’asu)”. Rashi comments that the “and that is what you should do” refers to a future temple (ledorot). The Ramban argues that the later temples were not like the Mishkan, neither in dimensions or in composition. “Vechain ta’asu” is then merely form of emphasis and has nothign to do with a future temple. The Chatam Sofer, instead, argues that it is an instruction for the future. However, a later prophet given the appropriate vision will take the place of Moshe. The use of the extra ‘vav’ in vechain ta’asu supports the reading of Rashi and the Chatam Sofer. The fact that Herod’s version of the temple was clearly not guided by a prophet is not a counter-argument. His temple was not totally finished before it was destroyed by the Romans, regardless of its apparent approval by the contemporary sages.

    The talmudic sages mention that the first version of the 2nd temple had 3 guiding prophets one of whom was said to have shown exactly where to build the stone altar. That information is still needed, as is the general layout of a divinely sanctioned temple. Without divine guidance, it would be merely the handiwork of men and be lacking the divine presence. That presence is the real raison d’etre of a temple. I imagine that few here believe that the mere offering of sacrafices is an adequate justification, much less, the pride in having a magnificent national center.

  43. To clarify matters a little, my point was not so much that korbanot would provide the antidote to all superstition in contemporary Judaism (though I think it would, along with, say, the practical re-introduction of nazirut, which would accompany it, provide some antidote). My point was that, in point of fact, in the absence of korbanot we have developed a huge array of cultic activity to replace it. None of these practises are inherently any more meaningful or rational than korabnot and many are clearly far less so and significant minority are superstitious or borderlne idolatrous.

    The point of korbanoth is that they provided an outlet for this need that was free from all the negative elements that accompany such systems when created by humans. Many Jews of the age found other, idolatrous, systems much more enticing, but that is not an argument against the system itself. Our specific problem with it is because we live in a culture heavily influenced by notions of propriety formed by elite Greco-Roman philosophers and Christian (explicitly anti-Jewish) polemicists. People seem to think that by expressing doubts about the worth of sacrifices they are following in the tradition of Yishaiah and other nevi’im, but it’s obvious that if they were alive today they would make the exact same criticism of us, namely that we put cultic observance before ethical fundamentals, the only difference is that we made up our own set of observances, whereas they at least were, sometimes, following the one G-d gave them.

    Bottom line is that I don’t see what is worse about trooping off to Yerushalayim to eat maaser sheni and offer olot reiyah than trooping off to Meron to dance round a bonfire and sing prayers to Shimon Bar Yochai; on the other hand I can see much about it that is better. I’m convinced that that the people who enjoy going to Meron would enjoy going to the Beit HaMikdash just as much, if not more, and they would have a far more positive spiritual experience in the process.

    The only relevant argument against Korbanot is that because of our Christian (and originally anti-semitic) cultural aversion to them, they would be ineffective in providing an outlet for our cultic needs. I suspect that problem will fade as the Jewish people forge a new culture in our own land. At the end of the day, Muslims have their Eid and they seem to enjoy it and get something out of it: frankly, I find it hard to see what the big deal is.

  44. Here is the lashon HaRambam from the Yad I mentioned earlier, in Hil. Meilah, 5:8:

    ח וכל הקרבנות כולן, מכלל החוקים הן. לפיכך אמרו חכמים שאף על עבודת הקרבנות, העולם עומד–שבעשיית החוקים והמשפטים, זוכין הישרים לחיי העולם הבא; והקדימה תורה ציווייה על החוקים, שנאמר “ושמרתם את חוקותיי ואת משפטיי, אשר יעשה אותם האדם וחי בהם” (ויקרא יח,ה).

  45. Sorry, that 8:8 in hilchos meilah.

  46. Gabriel:
    1.Your idea’s are interesting but are they grounded in sources?
    2. You seem to give validity to wide spread customs that are quite contrary to normative main stream Halacha, how do you justify that?

  47. shachar haamim

    “And kitniyos? SERIOUSLY? I guess we might as well toss out all our ancient minhagim.”

    you might correct about all you wrote – except for kitniyos. there are premier league rishonim and acharonim who claled it a minhag shtu”t. the the perpetuation of this mihag as jews descended from french and germanic jew who moved eastward, then waetward, then southeast to E”Y, all the while expanding the chumra, can only be described as simple folly.
    It also cuts to the issue of simchat chag and thus needs to be balanced against a desire to “preserve tradition”

  48. Gabriel-I agree that segulos that have no source in the Talmud are of dubious value. Saying Tehilim for a choleh/cholah are a means of crying out to HaShem that the Rachmei Shamayim influence the doctors etc to help find a cure or alleviate the person’s undue suffering. Visiting Kivrei Tzadikim has an inspirational value. For many years, I learned through the night on Shavuous, but I can see how doing so wrecks one’s Shavuous lunch. With respect to Pesach, I eat Gebruchts, but I certainly respect those who don’t and who have the other minhagim that you mentioned.

    The recitation of Tashlich and even Kaparos ( over money) are interesting Minhagim-but one should never associate either with being representative of the Kedushas HaYom of either RH or YK.I am surprised that you didn’t mention the recitation of Machnisei Rachamim, but I think that if one remembers that the same is a nice Piyut, as opposed to the address for one’s Tefilos, the recitation or non-recitation of the same is really much ado about nothing.

    The fact that kavanah is downplayed and that we view the recitation of Tefilos on a three times basis as well as the recitation of brachos IMO ( and I don’t have a source for this) may very well be that since Tefilah corresponds or is rooted in the concept of Korbanos, the recitation of Tefilos on a daily basis is akin to a Korban Tamid, even without the requisite kavanah.

    AFAK, the refraining from eating Matzah in Nissan is quoted by the Beer Hetev in SA, but I once heard RHS mention in the name of RMS that the same cannot be reconciled with one of the Four Questions and that the same is a Chasidishe Minhag.

    As far as Meron on Lag BaOmer is concerned, see R Zevin ZL and his citation to the Chasam Sofer who raised major concerns of Baal Tashchis and IIRC Baal Tosif. I would suggest that siyumim be celebrated on Lag BaOmer to commemorate the fact that the plague among R Akiva’s students stopped, and that the Mesorah continued with R Akiva’s five students as recorded in Yevamos 62.

  49. This week’s Haftorah challenges the notion that Cultic Sacrifice, in themselves, provide meaning and fulfillment. As Hertz contextualizes:

    Malachi was the last of the Prophets. Nothing is known of his life, except what can be gathered from his prophecies, which seem to have been spoken some time about the year 450 before the Common Era.

    The Second Temple had been rebuilt, but the high hopes of the returned exiles had not been fulfilled. The lamp of religious enthusiasm burned but dimly in that age, and both priest and people treated sacred things with a weary indifference.

  50. Steve Brizel: I’d love to take you up on your various points, but I think you are missing the wood for the trees here. I don’t think you disagree that we have evolved numerous rituals with little or no basis in any source in Chazal and that this indicates some sort of ineradicable need for ritual among the great majority of us (hamon am all the way to talmidei chachamim) Nor do I think you disagree that though many of these are perfectly innocent, some represent, at least when taken together, an excessive burden, some are inane, some are superstitious and some should almost certainly be forbidden outright as near pagan. You just disagree about details.

    My point is simply that we should not think of ourselves as “above” korbanot, because we are clearly not, we just happen to have a cultural aversion to certain forms of cultic activity, largely because of Christian, anti-Jewish influences. I further think that korbanot in the future will provide *some* outlet for our ritualistic needs and that this will be, by and large, more healthy and positive than many of our current outlets. In sum, I think all this soul-searching about korbanot in the further is really overblown, if they don’t speak to you, make sure you bone up on you shabbat halachot so you;re not chayav chatat, don’t make any nedarim and let the people who will enjoy them have fun with it. If you are truly an exemplary Maimonidean individual who doesn’t need such trifles to commune with G-d, congratulations, you’re part of a esoteric philosopher community and you certainly have better things to do than be posting here. In sum, chill out. Chag Kasher v’sameach.

    (IH: do you really think people, by and large, treat tefillah any better today?)

  51. P.S. IH the message one should take from reading the nevi’im is to look at how their criticisms apply to us today and do heshbin hanefesh, not to think how superior we are to temple era Judaism. WE ARE NOT.

  52. Gabriel — You have raised a strawman. I am not saying we are superior in any way. I am saying that there is no reason to believe that bringing back Korbanot will change anything regarding how people interact with God (which was your point, as I understood it). Yesterday’s Haftorah illustrates this was already a problem in Malachi’s day not that long after Bayit Sheini was built and Korbanot reinstituted.

  53. There is also a small matter of logistics. With 13.5 million Jews, how often will an individual Jew personally participate in a Korban in Bayit Sh’leshi if it were built today?

    And presumably the system would have to be intermediated in any case, since few of us own animals (or agricultural fields for that matter). And, once intermediated into a virtual korban from the end user’s perspective, does it still have meaning?

  54. IH: You are correct, that was a strawman response.

    My answer, briefly, is that the hizuk given by Malachi and Haggai, broadly speaking, worked. Enthusiasm waned after the initial rush of return, inevitably (no doubt something similar will happen in the Messianic age), but it seems pretty clear that the temple cult eventually became an central and treasured part of personal and national religion during the second temple period. This period was one in which, for all its problems, the Jewish people firmly kicked idol worship into touch and, IMHO became a people significantly less superstitious and more properly monotheistic than orthodox Jews today. The temple cult, in short, seems to have played its role fairly well. Of course, the Jewish people were not able to get their act together as a nation to successfully resist foreign domination, but the korbanot (with the exception of those at the regalim) do not play a particular role in solving that problem.

    Logistics are, of course, a serious concern, and we’ll need all the ingenuity of Israeli entrepeneurs to deal with it. I would suggest that, though we have more people to deal with, we also have more technological tools at our disposal than in the past. There was a gezeirah at some point during bayit sheni that behema gasa couldn’t be raised in EY proper, so I don’t think your last point is such a clincher. Havurot for Pesahim could be up to 100 each during bayit sheni (not hard once you recognise what a kezayit is, another completely ludicrous humra of our age btw.) so they would be no more “virtual” in the future than then.

    Look, I’m not saying korbanot will solve all our problems, I’m saying they’ll ameliorate some of our problems. If they don’t speak to you at all, that’s a shame, hopefully they’ll appeal to your grandchildren. 🙂 Judaism today is a mess, as I think you know as well as anyone on this board. The majority of frum Jews believe, or profess to believe, that Neoplatonic emanationism and multiple hypostates of the godhead are cardinal articles of faith for crying out loud. We can do better and we will and korbanot will play their role in that along with many other things.

  55. I find sacrifices fascinating because it was a practice that all ancient peoples engaged in.

    I think that there is something in this practice that emerged as a precusor or a direct response to humanity’s awareness of God and is deeply tied to the emergence of civilization. The details of which I can’t say I understand.

    My 2 cents…

    I think it’s important to view animal sacrifice for what it actually was. Ancient people’s believed that God or other deities were ‘eating’ the sacrifices. And I think in Judaism that idea applies, that God is eating these animals, as sacrifices are referred to as ‘God’s food’ in the Torah.

    I think this is where Rambam is coming from. One of his major theses in the guide is that God is non physical. This is pashut to us now, but not in his time and certainly not in ancient times. And this commandment is therefore seemingly absurd, as God does not have a physical body and therefore does not need to eat.

    So why the mitzvah? If God is not hungry and doesn’t need eat bulls and stuff why feed them to him? I think the answer can be found by extrapolating from other ideas of the Rambam, in particular ideas mentioned in the ‘shemonah perukim’ that the purpose of mitzvos is to lead people onto good character traits.

    There is a mishnah which says that a person who says that Hashem’s mercy extends to the birds nest (a reference to sending away a mother bird when taking the eggs) may not lead the congregation. Why is this? Because he mistankingly interprets the mitzvah as being to benefit the bird, while really all mitzvos are to benefit the person in their character development, as is the position of the Rambam. The mitzvah of sending away the mother bird enhances the individuals midah of rachamim.

    So back to sacrifices. We understand that it was rampant in the ancient world and people would constantly bring extravagant sacrifices. And as Rambam maintains, the obligations the Torah made in this matter actually come to decrease it’s practice, to make it easier, more accessible, and to limit it’s observance so that people would not be drawn to avodah zarah and after this ridiculous notion that God eats. But why not abolish it if it is fundamentally absurd? Because it’s not about God eating but the people bringing the sacrifice. For whatever reason this is a practice that provides a beneficial outcome to the person/people bringing it. That this is how humanity has connected with God since the beginning and still is necessary for the individuals character development.

  56. Gabriel – I am probably not going to have the time to write my further thoughts on this before Chag, but I wanted to thank you for a discussion that provoked me to think about this issue in ways I previously had not. It also intersected with a short Dvar Torah I recently heard that focused on the 4th pasuk in Parshat Vayikra, specifically: וְסָמַךְ יָדוֹ. This is a great example of why I spend time on Hirhurim.

  57. Gavriel wrote:

    “P.S. IH the message one should take from reading the nevi’im is to look at how their criticisms apply to us today and do heshbin hanefesh, not to think how superior we are to temple era Judaism. WE ARE NOT”

    Please explain the above comment in light of the comment in the Talmud that the actions of Esther succeeded where all of the words of the Neviim failed. One can argue that HaShem spared Klal Yisrael precisely because the purpose of both Batei Mikdash had failed due to the transgressions of the people, and many of their leaders as well as the view that the Mikdash without a sincere Teshuvah would protect Klal Yisrael, but the authentic mission of Klal Yisrael was rooted in a permanent covenantal relationship between HaShem and Klal Yisrael, that was meant to survive the destruction of the Mikdash.

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