In light of Tisha B’Av, I want to write about animal sacrifices in Judaism.
On Tisha B’Av Jews mourn the destruction of the first and second Jewish temples, in 586 BCE and 70 CE, respectively.
In addition to emotions of mourning, Tisha B’Av also brings up questions about the future. Jewish prayer includes the wish that the Temple will be rebuilt and that a Divine presence will reside in Jerusalem. The Temple was a center for Jewish worship and sacrifice.
When Jewish people pray today for the Temple to be rebuilt, are they also praying for a return of animal sacrifice?
It is difficult to connect to passages in the Torah (and some in the Talmud) about animal sacrifice. When we read, we tend to relate to animal sacrifice as a historical fact that is a part of Jewish history. It is true that some rabbinical sources clearly expect animal sacrifice to reappear in the messianic age. Thankfully, Maimonides thought differently. According to him, animal sacrifice was never an ideal means of worship.
Ancient Judaism came into being in a time when all worship was focused on sacrifice, so the Torah allowed it with very specific structures and restrictions. But once the world advanced to a point where it was no longer needed, Judaism would not require it either.
According to Maimonides and others who followed in his footsteps, the messianic age is primarily about Jewish autonomy and a Third Temple would be a house of gathering and prayer. and not of animal sacrifice.
It’s hard to imagine a contemporary society in which animal sacrifice would be acceptable. Even among meat eaters, there is a natural compassion and unwillingness to be involved in the indiscriminate killing of animals. If animals have a place in the Third Temple, it is easier to imagine that it would be a hobby farm with a vegetable garden, to teach respect for animals and the earth.
When Judaism was formed, it was impossible to imagine a religion without sacrifice, but today’s monotheistic religions have become prayer and ritual centered, and animal sacrifice has almost disappeared from the world.
To me, the concept of a Temple is primarily about unity and peace. I hope that animal sacrifice stays in the past and never returns to Judaism.
Your turn: What’s your view on animal sacrifice in Judaism?