The primary importance of slaughtered offerings in Judaism
In performing animal sacrifices the Jews learned the importance of doing religious actions with deliberate purpose
ed note–again, one simply cannot understand the underpinnings of the actions and far-reaching plans of the Jewish state and how it deals with the rest of the world, and especially its neighbors–without first understanding the deeply-embedded religious thoughts that drive the Judaic mind.
The method by which the Jews, Israelites, Hebrews, She-brews, etc–whatever word one chooses to use in describing them–interface and communicate with the violent, racist and vindictive god of Israel, yahweh is through the ‘slaughtered offering’, whereby the priest takes a goat, sheep, or bull, places his hand on the soon-to-be slaughtered animal, transfers whatever ‘sins’ are to be forgiven, then slits the animal’s throat, chops up its body and burns it on the altar of sacrifice.
No, this is not Mel Gibsons’s brilliant movie Apocalypto, it is Judaism as outlined in the Torah, specifically the book of Leviticus to wit–
‘The priest is to lay his hand on the head of the goat, ram or bull and slaughter it at the place of the burnt offering…The priest is then to take some of the victim’s blood and smear it on the horns of the altar of burnt offering and then pour out the rest of the blood at the base of the altar. He shall remove all the fat and then the priest shall burn the victim on the altar as an aroma pleasing to the LORD, and in this way the priest will make atonement for the people of Israel and they will be forgiven their sins…’
Now, for 2,000 years, ever since Titus (and his Syrian conscript troops) destroyed the Temple, there has been no daily sacrifice, which is absolutely intrinsic to Judaism. How then do the Jews satisfy the demands for blood on the part of their violent, vindictive god yahweh?
In making animal sacrifices the Jews learned the importance of doing religious actions with deliberate purpose
According to a famous saying ‘The world stands on three things, Torah, avodah, and deeds of loving-kindness.’ The word avodah is usually translated as the Temple service, the daily and yearly cycle of sacrifices and offerings prescribed in the Torah.
The amount of space devoted to sacrifices in the Torah suggests that they were very important to God. But why, exactly? Could the Creator of the universe really have been hungry for the aroma of burnt meat? Yehuda Halevi, in the Kuzari, ponders this question: “You slaughter a lamb and smear yourself with its blood, in skinning it, cleaning its entrails, washing, dismembering it, and sprinkling its blood. If this were not in consequence of a divine command, you would think little of these actions and believe that they estrange you from God rather than bring you near to Him.”
Halevi concludes that sacrifices must have had a real efficacy, guaranteed by God, even if human reason couldn’t understand why or how they functioned. Maimonides, on the other hand, developed a rational and historical analysis. In and of themselves, he argues in the Guide for the Perplexed, animal sacrifices mean nothing to God, who has no body or senses, and certainly doesn’t inhale their smoke. If Moses commanded the Israelites to offer sacrifices, it was only because, in his time and place, they were considered a normal part of religious practice. If he had tried to deprive the Israelites of sacrifice, they would have been confused and distraught—just as modern Jews would rebel if you told them that God doesn’t hear prayers (which, Maimonides implies, he doesn’t).
What is the status of an offering that is slaughtered “not for its own sake”?
In Zevachim 2b, we read that “the offering is slaughtered for the sake of the offering”—that is, it must be offered as a particular type of sacrifice. There are several kinds of sacrifices described in the Torah, including sin offerings, guilt offerings, peace offerings, and burnt offerings, each of which has a different purpose and involves different types of animals and rituals. The implication here is that, as we have seen in many other cases in the Talmud, intention matters just as much as action. If a slaughterer kills an animal for a burnt offering but he thought he was doing it for a sin offering, or vice versa, the sacrifice is flawed, because it was “slaughtered not for its own sake.”
The Gemara draws a comparison to a bill of divorce, or get. Just as a get must be written for a specific husband and wife, so an animal must be slaughtered for a specific sacrifice. However, the mishna in Zevachim 2a draws a fine distinction: The sacrifice “did not satisfy the obligation of the owner,” but it is nevertheless considered “fit.” In other words, the wrongly intended sacrifice can be offered up to God, but the person who offers it must go back and start over with a new sacrifice that is offered in the correct spirit.
The Gemara goes on to ask just what this distinction signifies. “Reish Lakish raised a difficulty while lying on his stomach in the study hall,” we read in Zevachim 5a, in a novelistic touch. “If offerings are fit, let them propitiate God, and if they do not propitiate God, why are they brought at all?” In what sense is the sacrifice “fit” if it doesn’t do what it is supposed to do? Rabbi Elazar responds by citing a case in which the fitness and the effectiveness of an offering are separate issues: that is, when the person in whose name the sacrifice is offered has died. This could happen, for instance, if a woman who is about to go into labor designates a certain animal as a burnt offering, to be sacrificed after she delivers, but then dies in childbirth. In this case, her heirs are supposed to carry out the burnt offering. Apparently such a sacrifice is fit to offer to God, even though it cannot atone for its owner, since she is no longer alive.
The intention to bring the proper kind of sacrifice is just one of the elements required. “The offering is slaughtered for the sake of six matters,” we read in Zevachim 2b. The first, as we have seen, is “for the sake of the particular offering.” Second, it must be “for the sake of the one sacrificing”: the identity of the owner of the sacrifice matters. If the slaughterer receives an animal from Reuven, but when he kills it he believes he is doing so for Shimon, the sacrifice is flawed.
Third, it must be “for the sake of God”: the sacrifice must be carried out with the conscious intention of propitiating God. Fourth, “for the sake of the fires”: the slaughterer must intend for the animal to be burnt on the altar. Fifth, “for the sake of an aroma,” which is integral to the sixth, “for the sake of pleasing.” If any one of these elements isn’t consciously present in the mind of those carrying out the sacrifice, it is flawed, though it is still “fit” to be offered up. Here is one answer to the philosophers’ objections: Sacrifice is not only a ritual or a formula; it is supposed to be a conscious act of honoring God. As always in Judaism, what you do matters because of why you do it.
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