To Sacrifice or Not to Sacrifice

Q: If traditional Jews [those who do not believe in Yeshua] do not believe in the New Testament, do they still sacrifice animals?  If not, what are their reasons?

A. It is true, traditional Jews do not believe in the New Testament, and therefore in the atonement that comes through Messiah Yeshua. And yet, they do not sacrifice animals, not even on Yom Kippur. There is one primary reason for not sacrificing animals anymore. That is the fact that there is no longer a temple to sacrifice them in. With the destruction of the Temple in 70 C.E., both the Pharisees and the Sadducees had big problems. For the Sadducees, their whole existence was centered around the Temple service. With the Temple gone, it wasn’t very long before the Sadducees were gone, too.

     The Pharisees’ problem centered on what to do with atonement. With the Temple gone, the only place that the sacrifices were allowed to be performed, they had to come up with something else. What they came up with is three things that will, when taken together, provide the same atonement as the animal sacrifices: study of Torah, acts of kindness (performing mitzvot, or commandments), and giving to charity. These three things replaced the sacrifices from 70 C.E. onward for the traditional Jewish community. Today, the Orthodox Jews still hold to this thinking. Conservative Jews less so, and the reform and secular don’t even think about atonement. It doesn’t even hit their radar.
     To bring up Leviticus 17 to them and the fact that atonement can only come from the shedding of blood brings up a huge debate. There is no satisfactory answer to it, however, especially for those who place such a high regard on the Torah. The problem is that they place a higher value on the Talmud, which is the interpretations of the rabbis over centuries. This body of work completed about 200 C.E. doesn’t supersede the Bible, but does explain it for them, even if the explanations seem to contradict the Bible itself.
     Because the concept of anything other than sacrifices, the shedding of blood, etc. are completely contrary to the Bible, we would have to look outside of the Bible for any explanation of why those things are no longer necessary, yet atonement is still provided. The Talmud and other rabbinic writings gives us those explanations from the Jewish perspective. Responses from these works would include comments such as, “Prayer is greater than sacrifice,” (Talmud Tractate Berakhot 32b), that repentance, itself, is as if you had built the Temple, erected the altar, and offered all the sacrifices yourself, (Leviticus Rabbah 7:2), justice and righteousness are better than sacrifices (Berakhot 4b), and that one day spent in Torah study is better than a thousand burnt offerings (Tractate Shabbat 30a and Deuteronomy Rabbah 5:3). These are examples of how they rationalize the absence of sacrifices today. There are others, but at this point, you should get the idea.

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