Does God really need sacrifices offered in the Temple?

The Torah, the central holy text of Judaism, clearly has a large role for offering sacrifices.

But within Judaism, including the entire Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) and our oral law, what is the larger view of sacrificies?

Does God really need sacrifices offered in the Temple? The Hebrew Bible teaches

Psalm 40:6 “In sacrifice and offering you have not delighted, but you have given me an open ear. Burnt offering and sin offering you have not required.”

Psalm 51:16-17 “For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it; you will not be pleased with a burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.”

Hosea 6:6 “For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.”

Hosea 14:2 “Take with you words and return to the LORD; say to him, ‘Take away all iniquity; accept what is good, and we will pay with bulls the vows of our lips.'”

Malachi 3:4 “Then the grain-offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to God as in the days of old, and as in ancient years.”

Micah 6:6-9 “With what can I come before the Lord to bow down before God on high? Should I come before him with burnt offerings? with calves in their first year? Would the Lord take delight in thousands of rams with ten thousand rivers of olive oil? Could I give my firstborn son to pay for my crimes, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? “Human beings, you have been told what is good, what the Lord demands of you — only to act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with your God””.

Amos 5:21-24 “I take no pleasure in your solemn assemblies. If you offer me burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them; nor will I consider the peace offerings of your stall-fed cattle. Spare me the noise of your songs! I don’t want to hear the strumming of your lutes! Instead, let justice well up like water, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”

1 Samuel 15:22 “To do justice and judgment is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice.

Rabbinic Literature

Once, Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai was walking with his disciple, Rabbi Yehoshua, near Jerusalem after the destruction of the Temple. Rabbi Y’hoshua looked at the Temple ruins and said “Alas for us!! The place that atoned for the sins of the people Israel lies in ruins!” Then Rabbi Yohannan ben Zakkai spoke to him these words of comfort: “Be not grieved, my son. There is another equally meritorious way of gaining ritual atonement, even though the Temple is destroyed. We can still gain ritual atonement through deeds of loving-kindness.

– Avot d’Rabbi Nathan 4:5

Rabbi Shmuel bar Nahmani taught: The Holy One Said to David: “Solomon, your Son is building the Temple. Is this not for the purpose of offering sacrifices there? The justice and righteousness of your actions are more precious to me than sacrifices.” And how do we know this? “To do what is right and just is more desirable to Adonai than sacrifice.” (Proverbs 21:3)
– Talmud Yerushalmi, B’rakhot 2.1

Rabbi Elazar said: Doing righteous deeds of charity is greater than offering all of the sacrifices, as it is written: “Doing charity and justice is more desirable to the Lord than sacrifice” (Proverbs 21:3).
– Babylonian Talmud, Sukkah 49

The verse states: “And in every place offerings are presented to My name, and a pure meal offering; for My name is great among the nations, says the Lord of hosts.”
Does it enter your mind to say that it is permitted to sacrifice offerings in every place?
Rather, Rabbi Shmuel bar Naḥmani says that Rabbi Yonatan says:
These are Torah scholars, who engage in Torah study in every place. God says: I ascribe them credit as though they burn and present offerings to My name.

– Babylonian Talmud, Menahot 110a

In another comparison, Rabbi Elazar said: Prayer is greater than sacrifices, as it is stated: “To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices to Me, says the Lord. I am full of the burnt-offerings of rams and the fat of fed beasts; I do not desire the blood of bulls and sheep and goats” (Isaiah 1:11). And several verses later it is written: “And when you spread forth your hands I will hide My eyes from you, and even if you increase your prayer, I will not hear; your hands are full of blood” (Isaiah 1:15)

– Talmud Bavli, Berakhot 32

Rabbi Abbahu said that Rabbi Elazar said: With regard to anyone who takes a lulav in its binding and a myrtle branch in its dense-leaved form, the verse ascribes him credit as though he built an altar and sacrificed an offering upon it

– Talmud Bavli, Sukkah 45a

With regard to anyone who establishes an addition [issur] to the Festival on the day after the Festival by eating and drinking, the verse ascribes him credit as though he built an altar and sacrificed an offering upon it

– Talmud Bavli, Sukkah 45b

Rabbi Pinchas, Rabbi Levi and Rabbi Yochanan [said] in the name of Rabbi Menachem from Gallia: In the time to come, all sacrifices will be annulled – but the sacrifice of thanksgiving will not be annulled.
– Midrash Vayikra Rabbah 9:7

In the future, all the sacrifices will be nullified, but the thanksgiving sacrifice is never nullified; all the
gratitude is nullified, but the thanksgiving offering is never nullified.

– Midrash Vayikra Rabbah, Emor, 27:12

Commenting on “And when you sacrifice an offering of Thanksgiving to the Lord.” (Lev. 22:29) R. Pinhas, R. Levi, and R. Johanan said in the name of R. Menahem of Galilee: In the age to come all [other] offerings shall cease, but the sacrifice of thanksgiving shall not [ever] cease. All prayers shall cease, but the prayer of thanksgiving shall not [ever] cease.
– Midrash Tanchuma, Buber edition, Emor 19

One who gives leket, shikchah, peah, and the poor tithe — it is accounted to him as if the Temple existed and he offered up his sacrifices therein. And one who does not give it — it is accounted to him as if the Temple existed and he did not offer up his sacrifices therein.
– Midrash Sifra, Emor, Chapter 13

In modern times we read from Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook

“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, p.292

R. Kook on Sacrifices and Other Assorted Comments, Marc B. Shapiro, 4/15/2010

Some of us imagine a future in which we indeed rebuild the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, yet without re-instating animal sacrifices? What might a Temple look like that was the focal point of our yearning for human dignity, equality and compassion?

Rabbis Leon A. Morris and Rabbi Joel Levy write:

For many modern Jews, sacrifice is an anathema. Those ancient forms of worship seem primitive and outmoded. The notion that God is to be found in one central place alone is objectionable. Yet we may not want to discard the conceptual basis for the Temple — that proper human action allows God to dwell among us, while sin distances us from God’s presence.

Furthermore, the texts and liturgy centered on the Temple and its sacrifices loom large in classical Jewish sources. From the names of our daily, Shabbat and festival services, to our table rituals such as netilat yadayim, the memory of the Temple ritual remains central.

That centrality has allowed us through an expansive interpretive tradition to ascribe the importance that sacrifices once had to prayer, to study, and to eating a meal. Imbuing those more ordinary sorts of acts with sacrificial import requires keeping alive the memory of the Temple.

The interpretive and imaginative possibilities for our own age rely on the very concrete referent of the Temple as a focus of our present religious lives.

Strains within Orthodoxy paint a vivid and real picture of their messianic vision for the Temple Mount – a vision which is chillingly supremacist and anachronistic. But that should not cause us to turn our backs on the Temple as a religious image, but rather to redouble our efforts to paint a messianic vision for this country that actually reflects the values that we know to be true.

What might a Temple look like that was the focal point of our yearning for human dignity, equality and compassion?

We Cannot Give Up the Western Wall to ultra-Orthodox , Leon A. Morris and Joel Levy, Haaretz, 6/27/16

Related articles

Do We Mean What We Pray? Sacrifices In The Siddur. Rabbi Daniel Nevins

Is it Permissible to Change the Wording About the Sacrifices in the Middle Blessing of the Musaf Service? Rabbi Prof. David Golinkin, Responsa in a Moment: Volume 5, Issue No. 3, January 2011

The Korbanot, Rabbi Dr. Ari Zivotofsky, Orthodox Union

Are You Really Planning to Bring Back those Animal Sacrifices? Tzvi Freeman, Chabad


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