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Reconciling Love of Life with Biblical Sacrifices

Dear Cyber-Rav,

I love the idea of looking forward to the day of the Messiah, but the liturgy consistently seems to include the desire to return to the sacrifices of old. How can we reconcile the reverence for blood as part of life, and the sacrifices with all of that blood splashing everywhere?

Maddy

The Cyber Rav Answers:

Dear Maddy,

Consider our biblical ancestors' theology. God gives us a great gift: life. What better gift can we receive than that? So we, too, grant a gift to Him: the gift of life. Some ancients, in their profound gratitude to God, went so far as to give the gift of human life. The Jews said: bad idea, and conceived of a God that rejected human sacrifice. That whole binding of Isaac story--it's about the rejection of human sacrifice as a legitimate gift to God. But being evolutionaries, our ancestors permitted the granting of animal life to God for a sacred purpose. Our ancestors sprinkled the symbol of life (blood) upon the altar in acknowledgment that all life comes from God, in gratitude for the life that had been given, and with the knowledge that we owe our very lives to God.

Truth to tell, the biblical prophets had difficulty with the sacrificial system and were often critical of it. They believed that there was more to the religious being than following these prescribed rituals. After the Temple's destruction, there were few attempts to engage in sacrifices elsewhere, effectively killing the system. With the advent of modernity, Reform and Conservative Judaism moved away, and in most cases, deleted prayers that called for the reinstitution of animal sacrifice.

We need not be uncomfortable with what our ancestors did 3,000 years ago. In fact, we can be proud of their bold attempts to revere life in a tangible and concrete way. How can we revere life and thank God for what we have? Like our ancestors, we ask that question too, but our answers may be different. Because Judaism is a living tradition, it is an evolving tradition.

Great question, Maddy. Be well and thanks for asking--

The CyberRav


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