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Maimonides on Sacrifices

Readers of The Jewish Link might recall that in 2019 I wrote a two-part article entitled “When Moshiach Comes.” The article discusses what the situation will be when Moshiach comes, regarding bringing sacrifices in a rebuilt Beit Hamikdash. Setting aside all the political problems, I commented only on logistics and the physical condition of the present State of Israel. I specifically took only a small part of the sacrifices that would be brought throughout the year—namely the availability of bulls and whether, if they would be available, how, logistically they could be brought into and through Jerusalem. After presenting the facts I concluded that it would not be possible for many reasons.

As we all know Israel is an industrial society now, and not anymore an agricultural society as at the time of the first and second Beit Hamikdash. The size of Bnei Yisrael then was a fraction of what it is now. Without going into detail at this point, everyone can visualize, if he/she is familiar with the workings of bringing sacrifices, that it would not be possible. I concluded in my article that when Moshiach comes, God will show us what to do.

That brings me to today’s subject. Setting aside the logistics, would God even want to reestablish the sacrifices whenever the time comes?

Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, zt”l, in the third essay to Parshat Vayikra in his “Covenant and Conversation” remarks that Maimonides (1135-1204) already wrote on this subject at the time.

Maimonides, after having written numerous other books, addressed himself to a young man by the name of Joseph ben Judah, in his philosophical masterwork “The Guide of the Perplexed.” Joseph had applied to Maimonides to study with him, and he had been accepted.

Maimonides stated (in the introduction to the book) that the need for sacrifices existed then because of the “superstitious beliefs and observances” that were in existence at the time in all the countries that the Jews had been in, and still were in contact with. Maimonides called these pagans “Sabians.” He stated that the Jews, after knowing no other customs, needed time and guidance to make changes to the service of God. He felt that, in accordance with the nature of man, the Jews could not, and would not, suddenly serve the one God after having been subjected to slavery and experiencing the type of worship they had seen in Egypt.

Consequently, God had given Moses the Torah, which prescribed rituals and sacrifices for the Jews, similar to what they had seen in Egypt, but now directed to Hashem instead of the multitudes of gods that the Sabians served. All this could not happen from one day to the next. God directed the Jews to wander in the desert for 40 years until they could accept the idea of one God, with the sacrifices leading the way to the belief of one God. Hashem does not need the sacrifices these former slaves had seen in Egypt, but ordered them so the Jews could learn, over time, that the service is not to the multitudes but to the one God.

Maimonides further states that the cessation of sacrifices at the time would have been unacceptable to the Jews, just as the cessation of prayer would be unacceptable now.

When Moshiach comes there will be no need for sacrifices since the Sabian influences have been completely eradicated, and the belief in the one God has been firmly established. At this time prayers have taken the place of sacrifices and God will eventually, through Moshiach, may he come soonest, tell us whether the Beit Hamikdash should be rebuilt, or something else will take its place.

On this subject the following question is raised by both Maimonides as well as Rabbi Joseph Albo in his treatise “Sefer Ha Ikkarim.” (Albo, a Spanish rabbi, lived in Daroga in the 15th century. This sefer might be of the last philosophical and theological classics of medieval Judaism, as stated by Isaac Husic in 1929. Husic was the editor and translator of the sefer).

How can we state that there will be no sacrifices when Moshiach comes, when it is stated specifically that one cannot make any changes in the Torah nor subtract from it? The meaning of that prohibition is discussed by Albo (Chapter 14, Page 296), who gives numerous examples of changes made by Hashem. For example, Adam was not permitted to eat the flesh of an animal whereas Noah was permitted to do so. The conclusion is that the divine law did change depending on the time. This was the situation during the times of Adam, Noah and Abraham, until Moses. After Moses no change has come about until this day. The prohibition, therefore, refers to human beings. But what is to stop Hashem, who wrote the Torah, from making changes to His work in the future, when Moshiach comes?

Rabbi Dr. J.H. Herz, chief rabbi of the British Empire, also comments (Vayikra XVII-7) that the main purpose of the sacrifices was to gradually get Israel to discontinue the primitive practices over a period of time.

Also Rabbi Mordechai Willig, rosh yeshiva, RIETS, in a footnote to his article “All the Days of your Life” in the latest Torah To-Go issue, remarks that in the Sefer Ha Ikkarim, Joseph Albo questions the statement by the Rambam that the Torah is unchangeable, giving as proof the change of the months.

What can take the place of sacrifices? In my humble opinion, instead of bringing animal sacrifices, tzedakah can take its place. Tzedakah to eradicate poverty, or at least to reduce it, could be an alternative. Poverty has always existed, and I think will always exist—the Torah makes provision for it—but it can be, and should be, reduced as far as possible.

Norbert Strauss is a Teaneck resident and Englewood Hospital volunteer. In the early days of The Jewish Link he wrote a regular column that was loved by all. He frequently speaks to groups to relay his family’s escape from Nazi Germany in 1941.

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