An Offering You Can(’t) Refuse

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

by R. Moshe Kurtz

Lomdus on the Parsha: Bechukosai

Based on the Acclaimed Sefer Chavatzeles HaSharon

Q: May we offer animal sacrifices today?

And I will make your cities waste, and bring your sanctuaries to desolation, and I will not smell the savour of your sweet aromas. (Leviticus 26:31)

The Talmud (Zevachim 62a) tells us:

It was taught in a baraisa: Rabbi Eliezer ben Yaakov says, Three prophets ascended with them (i.e. the Jewish people) from the exile: One who testified to them about [the size and shape of] the altar and about the location of the altar, and one who testified to them that one sacrifices [offerings] even if there is no Temple, and one who testified to them about the Torah that it be written in Assyrian script (Ashuris).

The Talmud (and Rambam in Hilchos Beis HaBechirah 6:14) leave us with the impression that one may offer sacrifices to God even in the absence of the Temple. Considering its sanctity remains intact today, why have we seen a dearth of Rabbinic authorities who are willing to encourage the revival of this practice?

(1) R. Tzvi Hirsch Kalischer, in his work Drishas Tzion, cites R. Akiva Eiger who held that we do not know the precise location of the altar with absolute certainty. Furthermore, we would need to verify the lineage of the kohen (priest) serving as well as the identity of the techeiles dye (which was far from obvious, at least during his time).

However, according to this reasoning, we would fundamentally be permitted to bring sacrifices nowadays. It is only a technical lack of knowledge that is preventing us from fulfilling a mitzvah whose essence still remains in force.

(2) Going a step further, the Binyan Tzion (no. 1) asserts that it is forbidden to offer sacrifices today based on the verse: “…and I will not smell the savour of your sweet aromas.” The Mishnah (Zevachim 46b) tells us:

The slaughtered offering is slaughtered for the sake of six matters, (and one must have all of these matters in mind): For the sake of [the particular type of] offering [being sacrificed]; for the sake of the one who sacrifices [the offering]; for the sake of God; for the sake of [consumption by] the fires [of the altar]; for the sake of the aroma; for the sake of the pleasing of God, and, in the cases of a sin offering and a guilt offering, for the sake of [atonement for the] sin.

In the multitude of our sins that led to the fall of our Temple, God declares that He will no longer accept the aromas we offer him. Seeing as the aroma is an indispensable facet of virtually every offering, God is essentially telling us that He no longer desires our offerings.

(3) R. Naftali Tzvi Yehuda Berlin, “the Netziv,” (Meishiv Davar 2:56) operates on the same premise as the Binyan Tzion but suggests that not only is it forbidden to bring such an offering, but such sacrifices would be inherently disqualified. Unlike the Binyan Tzion who would hold that it is only forbidden to offer a sacrifice nowadays, according to the Netziv, such an offering would be ineffective even post factoas it simply does not qualify for the status of a sacrifice.

Nonetheless, the Netziv (Ha’Emek Davar, Deut. 16:3), based on Sanhedrin (11a) notes one significant exception: the Pesach offering. Unlike other offerings which are intended for the sake of pleasing God with their pleasant aromas, no such condition was made for the Pesach offering, as its primary purpose was to negate the Egyptians’ worship of sheep. Therefore, according to our current framework, it should be permissible to bring a Pesach offering nowadays.

However, why should we stop at the Pesach offering? If we examine earlier sources, such as the Sefer HaChinuch (no. 440), we are left with the impression that all offerings are fair game:

And this commandment [to not offer sacrifices outside of the Temple] is practiced by males and females in every place and at all times. I mean to say that one who transgresses this even at this time and offers a sacrifice outside of the Choice House violates this positive commandment and violates the negative commandment that comes on this, as is written earlier in this Order (Sefer HaChinuch 439). But my intent is not to say that there is an obligation to offer a sacrifice in the Temple now, as it is destroyed. And this is something clear.

The fact that the Sefer HaChinuch states that there is no obligation to offer sacrifices today, suggests that it is still permissible, albeit not compulsory. However, the Kehilos Yaakov (Shavuos, no. 11) is aghast as such a suggestion. If we are indeed capable of offering sacrifices nowadays then it should not only be optional, but should be mandatory!

The Kehilos Yaakov answers that the Torah’s requirement to bring sacrifices to God would seem to hinge on the existence of a centralized place of worship. As it says in Leviticus (17:5):

So that children of Israel shall bring their sacrifices that they [would] slaughter on the field, and [instead] they shall bring them to God to the entrance of the Tent of Meeting, to the priest, and slaughter them as peace-offerings to God.

R. Mordechai Carlebach explains that there are two aspects to offering a sacrifice: (A) Kaparah -benefits such as atonement) and (B) Hakravah – the obligation to bring a sacrifice to the Temple. When there is no Temple there is naturally no obligation to bring a sacrifice to it. Accordingly, one may volunteer an offering to fulfill the aspect of Kaparah, but would not be required to do so since there is no mitzvah of Hakravah.

With the premise that there exists no requirement of hakravah nowadays we can also answer a question that was addressed at the very beginning of Vayikra. Previously, we were troubled by why it is not a popular practice (at least among pious individuals) to maintain a running record of the sacrifices they will owe when the Temple is rebuilt. R. Carlebach suggests that nowadays when there is no obligation of hakravah the obligation to offer a sacrifice never takes effect in the first place (me’ikara)! Thus, there would be little reason to keep track of one’s sacrifices that he owes, because he actually does not owe anything.

Of course, we pray that one day we will be able to renew the practices of old. May it be God’s will that the following words come to fruition speedily in our days:

I will bring them to My sacred mount and let them rejoice in My house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and sacrifices shall be welcome on My altar; For My House shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples” (Isaiah 56:7).

Note: This series is not intended to dispense practical halachic conclusions. The Torah presented here is but a small extraction from the breadth of the sefer Chavatzeles HaSharon and is not affiliated with the author in any official capacity. Translations are adapted from Sefaria,, Mechon Mamre, and my  own. Contact: [email protected] 

About Moshe Kurtz

Rabbi Moshe Kurtz is Assistant Rabbi at Congregation Agudath Sholom of Stamford, CT. He welcomes questions, feedback and speaking requests at: [email protected].

Leave a Reply

Subscribe to our Weekly Newsletter

The latest weekly digest is also available by clicking here.

Subscribe to our Daily Newsletter