Will There be Sacrifices in the Third Temple?

Will there be sacrifices in the Third Temple? I heard that they were only necessary in the olden days when people were more primitive and felt a need to offer sacrifices to God, as the pagans of the time were doing. But today we are more civilized and advanced and no longer have need for such practices.

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

Thank you for raising the important issue. This is a common misconception, but it is not true. The Torah states many times that its commandments are eternally binding. See for examples Deuteronomy 29:28, II Kings 17:37, Isaiah 40:8, and Psalms 111:7-9 – as well as Leviticus 23:4 in relation to one of the sacrifices.

In addition, it is abundantly clear from the Prophets that sacrifices will be reinstated in the Third Temple. See for one example of many Ezekiel chapters 43-46 with a detailed description of the some of the future offerings which will be brought. Even more famous is Isaiah 56:7: “...Their burnt offerings and peace offerings will be pleasing on My altar...”

Furthermore, one of the constant refrains of Jewish prayer is beseeching God to rebuild the Temple and reinstate the sacrificial order.

One possible cause for this misconception is an explanation found in the works of Maimonides (Guide to the Perplexed 3:32). He suggests that animal sacrifice was a universal form of religious expression in ancient times. As a result, God instructed Israel to do the same, since human beings are incapable of immediately discarding their past behavior.

In a later chapter (46), Maimonides offers more specific reasons why God commanded Israel to bring various offerings. For example, sheep must be offered as a repudiation of the Egyptian deification of their sheep (see for example Exodus 8:22). We are further commanded to offer bulls because cows are revered in many idolatrous cultures – as they were in India until Maimonides’ day. (The pagans of those times would rather offer wild animals to their gods.) God therefore commanded us to offer such animals as a means of rejecting contemporary idolatrous practices.

Such time-bound explanations for the Temple offerings perhaps gave rise to the theory that in the Messianic Era, at a time when animal sacrifice will be foreign to man, there will be no reason to continue such practices. This, however, cannot be borne out in Maimonides’s own writings. One of the beliefs of his Thirteen Principles of Faith is that the laws of the Torah will never change. Thus, even if we would posit that God commanded Israel to bring sacrifices for transient reasons, once He placed such commands in the Torah, they are eternally binding. Maimonides likewise devotes quite a lot of his magnum opus, the Mishne Torah, to discussing the laws of the sacrifices.

Furthermore, other great Jewish thinkers rejects Maimonides’ approach altogether, arguing that all the mitzvot of the Torah are inherently good acts and were not simply commanded in reaction to contemporary practices. Nachmanides (Leviticus 1:9) in fact points out that both Abel and Noah offered sacrifices which were pleasing to God (see Genesis 4:4 and 8:20-21) long before there were pagan nations doing such to their idols.

A second suggested source for this misconception is found in the writings of Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Kook (commentary on the siddur), who served as the first Chief Rabbi of Palestine (under the British Mandate). Malachi 3:4 states as follows: “And it will be pleasant to God the grain offerings of Judah and Jerusalem as in the days of old and earlier years.” To this Rabbi Kook commented that the prophet specified grain offerings and not animal offerings because in the future knowledge of God will spread even to the animals and only grain will be brought to the Temple.

This too, however, is problematic as Rabbi Kook writes explicitly elsewhere that the Third Temple will include animal sacrifices. It is thus clear that his comment on Malachi is referring to a much later time, perhaps after the Resurrection, when even animal life will become intelligent.

Although animal sacrifice admittedly appears primitive and cruel to us, we must accept that God in His infinite wisdom understands what forms of service are necessary for the universe’s fulfillment. In this case, the painless slaughtering of animals and offering them to God are not only required to perfect the world, but they are the highest form of Divine expression an animal is capable of.

Here are a few important links on the meaning of the sacrifices:

Understanding the Sacrifices

Sacrifices versus Idolatry

But What If I Don't Want the Sacrifices of the Temple to Return?

See also this article by Rabbi Dr. Ari Zivotofsky (which this response is primarily based upon) for a fuller treatment of this topic.

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