Thursday, May 14, 2015

Sacrificial thoughts

When people insist that today's halachic practices, and, to a large extent, today's social practices are part of an unchanging mesorah presented to Moshe on Sinai along with the text of the Chumash (previous phrase isn't mine)  I usually use animal sacrifices as my counter example. Animal sacrifices were an essential component of Judaism 1.0. Now we just don't bother. Surely this shows Judaism has changed?

The response is usually something like this: 
No, no. Judaism hasn't changed at all. Only the political situation has changed. If we could still bring sacrifices we would. 
Really? Well let's think about this:

When I say that Judaism has changed, what I mean is that it changed in response to things like the political situation. Can't go to the Temple Mount anymore? Well, Judaism can adapt to that reality or it can die. Same as with the other famous changes. Can't sustain an economy anymore with debt cancellations every Jubilee, or without interest-based loans? Well, adapt or die. Judaism is still here because it's adapted (i.e changed) in response to countless situations just like these three. The sects that did not survive went out of business because they refused to adapt, while the super-successful sects (hello Judeo-Christianity) performed super-successful adaptions.

Now, let's talk for a moment about those Judeo-Christians. They managed to develop an interpretation of the Bible that allows them to ignore all of the dietary laws and all the ritual law, while simultaneously considering themselves the one true Israel, and the legitimate heirs of the Biblical tradition. As far as interpretations go, this is quite an achievement.

And, to be perfectly fair, we Jews have done the exact same thing with sacrifices. Just as the Christians dropped the dietary laws, etc., we have dropped the whole sacrificial code. And don't blame this on the loss of the Temple. After losing the Temple, we had options, such as:

(1) Reinterpreting to allow sacrifices to be brought anywhere, in imitation of every single person in the Pentateuch. This, by the way, is precisely what we did with lulav. Instead of allowing lulav to die like we allowed animal sacrifice to die, we we reinterpreted to allow lulav everywhere on all 7 days of the holiday.

(2) Forcing our way back on to the Temple Mount during the many moments when this was feasible. One of these famous moments came in 363 when Julian, the last pagan emperor authorized the rebuilding of the Temple. The Jewish response was ambivalent. Why? Perhaps because 363 was an awfully late date to be recommiting yourself to animal sacrifice.
(3)  Some other creative solution, such as requiring money to be donated in place of the animal (as with kaparot). You'll note that we have dozens of zecher l'mikdash practices but how many of them are designed to keep alive the memory of sacrifices? (Along with lulav and shofer zecher l'mikdash practices include daily birkat kohanim in Israel, simchas beis hasho'eva, hakafot, sefirat ha'omer (according to some) and more.)

Instead we chose (4) Drop them completely, with appropriate interpretations and justifications provided (ie: Temple Mount isn't in our hands. So sorry.)

NOTE: Some say davening was instituted to replace korbonot. In which case that's the creative solution I'm looking for in (3) above. However, the suggestion that davening replaced korbonot is problematic for a variety of reasons and it seems to me more correct to say that interest in animal sacrifice declined as interest in other forms of worship developed. So korbonot weren't replaced by design with davening as other practices were consciously and deliberately replaced with the zecher l'mikdas practices described above. The style of worship simply changed.

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