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Friday, June 24, 2016

Dershowitz On Halacha and Animal Sacrifices

Image from jewishleadership.blogspot.com
Alan Dershowitz, in his 1997 book called The Vanishing American Jew: In Search of Jewish Identity for the Next Century, has an interesting quote about halacha and animal sacrifices (italics mine):
Jewish Halakah — the methods used by rabbinic authorities to derive religious law — is a wonderful institution of which we should be very proud because it has contributed so much to the quality of our lives as Jews as well as to the lives of all humankind.
But it is an ever-changing institution that must continue to change.
Consider, for example, the elimination of animal sacrifices from the Jewish ritual. If you asked a Jew who lived in Jerusalem during the days of Solomon's Temple what the central ritual of Judaism was, he would answer without hesitation “the animal sacrifices in the Temple.” He would point to verses, chapters, indeed large portions of the Torah as describing these rituals in the most minute detail and commanding them in the most unequivocal terms. Judaism without animal sacrifice would be unthinkable to a Temple Jew. Yet the unthinkable has come to pass without weakening Judaism or Jewish life.
Nor will Judaism ever return to animal sacrifices. Because we need to pretend that Judaism is immutable, we have created the myth that we will return to animal sacrifices when the Temple is rebuilt. No we won't! Not in my religion! Jewish animal sacrifices were no more brutal than the rituals of other primitive religions — indeed, they were far less brutal than human sacrifices. But those days are over and Judaism will never return to them, even if we build another Temple.
The rabbis will figure out some way to justify not returning to so primitive and anachronistic a ritual, because they know that Judaism today could not survive it. Perhaps that is why we will never have another Temple: because the rabbis would not want to be confronted with the dilemma of how to rationalize a Temple without biblically commanded animal sacrifices.
In any event, this was a major change in Jewish life and in Judaism – a change that would have occurred had the Temple remained standing. (Some Orthodox scholars might well argue that God saw to it that the Temple was destroyed precisely in order to put an end to animal sacrifices, which had seen its day go by. So be it, but the result is the same: no more animal sacrifices!)

3 comments:

  1. Yet every Ortho Jew prays 3 times a day for a return to sacrifices. Heck, even Ortho-Vegans say the words. Proving that many people don't give much thought to the words they say or simply make lame rationalizations (e.g., reinterpret as a metaphor) to justify them.

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