Last week, I began to address the cognitive dissonance involved in the Torah’s heavy focus on animal sacrifices. I talked about how many of the prophets not only disagreed with the belief that animal sacrifices were an “ideal” but some of them even thought that they were intrinsically negative. If you are just tuning in I suggest reading my last post here.
After last week’s post, I received much backlash from people who were upset that I was “miss-leading people”, being “intellectually dishonest” or unfairly “trying to fit my own views into Judaism”. However, these comments come from an overall lack of understanding and appreciation for the richness of opinions that Judaism has to offer on any subject. By the end of this post, my goal is to have you convinced that according to full fledged Orthodox Judaism, we can conclude that it is reasonable and “allowed” to be of the opinion that the reinstatement of sacrifices during messianic times is unnecessary and negative.
Looking in the Talmud and Midrash we can quickly see that many Rabbis felt inherently uncomfortable with the notion that sacrifices are the most ideal way to connect to God. There are many statements sprinkled throughout the Talmudic literature attesting to the superiority of prayer, charity, and many other ways of serving God to sacrifice. One such example is the explicit statement by Rabbi Elazar in Tractate Sukkah 49b
Rabbi Elazar said: “Doing charity and justice is more desirable to the Lord than sacrifice.
This quote, along with many others like it, are a good way to begin the conversation. Although the Torah spends hundreds of verses talking about sacrifice, presumably as an ideal, the Rabbis in Talmudic times were uncomfortable thinking that sacrifices are, or ever were, the most ideal way to connect to God. We can further see this idea throughout the many Rishonim (including Rashi) who hold that the entire reason why the Temple was ever necessary is because the Jews, after the Golden Calf, proved that they were unable to deal with serving a non-physical God, in non-physical ways.
Although these statements are very telling, they do not make a strong case for the abolition of sacrifice in Messianic times. As many readers commented on my last post: “just because the idea of sacrifices makes one feel uneasy, does not mean that we can erase them from the Torah.”
Well…it is a good thing that the opposition does not end there! In a surprising statement showing up in two separate Midrashim, the Rabbis actually attest to the fact that in Messianic times all animal sacrifices will be nullified.
All sacrifices will be annulled in the future except the thanksgiving offering (made up of flour), which will continue forever. (Tanchuma Emor 19, Vayikra Rabbah 9:7)
These Midrashim are sure to surprise many readers. If you are one of these readers, do not be upset. This is just another example of our Jewish education not having taught us the full diversity of opinions prevalent in Judaism. On that note: did anyone know that there is even an opinion in the Talmud that Moshiach will not come in the future since he already came! (see Sanhedrin 98b). Now although the Talmud quickly rejects this opinion, the fact that this man was not immediately called a Kofer, and had his opinion erased from the Talmud, is very telling.
Anyways back to our original argument, we see that there was at least a minority opinion that all sacrifices will be stopped in the future.
Moving onwards, it is important to discuss the opinion of the Rambam in Moreh Nevuchim who states:
It is unreasonable to expect that one who grew up as a slave, laboring in mud and bricks, should one day wash his hands from the dirt and straight off [without any preparation] do battle with the giants. Therefore, God did not immediately bring the people into the Land of Israel, and did not lead them [along the direct route], “the way of the Land of the Philistines” (Ex. 13:17). Similarly, it is unnatural for one who is accustomed to many forms of service and practices, so ingrained that they are like unquestionable laws, to abruptly desist from them. (Guide to the Perplexed 3:32)
The Rambam famously saw animal sacrifices as simply a necessity in the maturation of the Israelites upon leaving Egypt, for it is against human nature for one to transition extreme to another, with no intermediary steps. The Rambam, a great philosopher, understood that rituals, especially sacrifice, were a less than ideal way to connect to God. For those who think that the Rambam was going against Jewish tradition, or that he did not actually mean what he wrote (as many people actually argue) notice that the Rambam is developing his approach from a Midrash:
This is like an uncouth prince who was given to devouring unslaughtered meat. The king said: “Let him always be at my table, and he will be reformed on his own.” So too, since the Israelites were keenly devoted to idolatry in Egypt… the Holy One said: Let them offer their sacrifices before Me at all times. (Vayikra Rabbah 22:8)
Now to be fair, the Rambam does state in the Mishnah Torah that in third temples times sacrifices will return in their entirety. However based on much research, I think that there is strong reason to think that this is not his real opinion. While a full analysis of the discrepancies between the Rambam’s Halachic and philosophic work is beyond the scope of this article (I promise I will write about this in the future!), there are plenty of occasions where the Rambam says one thing in the Mishna Torah but strongly implies the opposite in his Guide to the Perplexed. It is important to stress that this is not just my opinion as many prominent Rabbis and scholars have concluded that according to the Rambam animal sacrifices will not resume come temple times. Since I feel that this point will be strongly disagreed with, I will try and include a footnote below with at least an initial analysis.
Coming into modern times we find that Rav Kook, the pro-vegetarian advocate, stated many different times, that sacrifices would not resume in the Messianic age. One such statement is in his commentary of the Amidah:
“In the future, the abundance of knowledge will spread to and penetrate even animals . . . and the sacrifices, which will then be from grain, will be as pleasing to God as in days of old in yesteryear [when there were animal sacrifices] . . . ” (Olat Reiyah, vol. 1 [Jerusalem, 1983], 292)
If we remember the Midrash quoting above, we will realize that Rav Kook is not making any novel statement here, but rather he is fully basing his opinion off of the Midrash. In another place Rav Kook ingeniously argues that a sacrifice must be offered “willingly” by the person who is offering. Since our morality has developed to such a large extent since Biblical times (another topic deserving of its own post), Rav Kook assumes that it will simply not be possible to convince people to “willingly” offer up their own sacrifice. I certainly know that this is true for me.
We have now seen support from the prophets, Talmud, Rishonim, and Achronim that animal sacrifices will cease to exist during the third temple. While these opinions are undoubtedly the minority, they allow one to remain a fully fledged Orthodox Jew while believing and wishing that animal sacrifices will never return. Judaism is a religion with a vast tradition and it only hurts our religion when certain minority opinions are hidden from Jews in various different topics.
Like this article? Click on the drop down menu on the top left to see more!
- See Marc Shapiro’s essay at http://seforim.blogspot.com/2010/04/marc-shapiro-r-kook-on-sacrifices-other.html for a full analysis – Rabbi Joseph Messas concludes that the Rambam’s true opinion was that sacrifices will not return, he writes: