The idea that sin affects the covenantal bond and defiles the Temple shows us an important concept related to the sin offering. The word in Hebrew for sin is “chatat” and the korban chatat is a way to “wash away” sin. We know that sin can taint a person and how the sinner would then be in need of being purified. As a symbol of washing and purification, the sprinkling of the blood for the korban chatat is more involved than any other korban.
Berman says that all the other korbanot demand that the altar be sprinkled two times. With a korban chatat, it will demand four sprinklings, but on who or what? A leprous house is sprinkled and we have seen that washings for the purification of a person who had been ritually defiled by coming into contact with a dead body is performed by having the body of the defiled person sprinkled. The washings of the sin offering should be performed on the object that has been defiled, the sinner. The sprinkling of the blood on the altar is done at different places on the altar, but never on the sinner themselves.
When the laws of the sin offering say that extra sprinklings should be done on the altar, or in the case of a communal sin offering on the veil (paroket) of the Holy of Holies, it is because the covenantal center (Temple) has been tainted by the sin that caused the sin offering to be brought. The washings of the sin offering then restores the person and the Temple to their former status.
Let’s look at another aspect in the symbolism of the korbanot. We have read that the prophets at times taught about the evil of offering korbanot when Israel did not show proper respect to God. But, if we realize that the Temple avodah (service) is a symbol of the covenant, then we can see why the prophets spoke against such thing when the covenant was being violated. We know that the covenant is eternal and Israel’s behavior can leave that covenant in a nervous tension. When that relationship between God and Israel is full of tension, it would not be appropriate to bring zevachim, or feasts of celebration. It would be mocking God. That is why Jeremiah said what he said in Jer 7.21-23. Jeremiah was not against the korbanot system, but he was saying it was inappropriate to bring them when the people were in a state of breaking the very meaning of the covenant they stood for. Why bring a zevach to renew the covenant when the people were breaking that covenant. The korbanot served a very important symbolic function, but only when there was a proper action and attitude for them to be done.
Now, Berman says that many have said that the korbanot and the Temple system are a problem for them. It is troubling for some to accept the korbanot on moral grounds. This opposition can be seen in two areas. First, in western society, the killing and use of animals is accepted, but the use of animals for religious purposes seems over the top. Others are strict vegetarians and animal rights advocates and the idea that animals are used as korbanot is morally wrong and it goes against their notions that there is a relationship between man and the animals that puts both on the same level. So, lets look at the animal rights and vegetarian position.
First of all, this is not a majority position. However, the premise has been expressed by those who aren’t vegetarians or an advocate for animal rights, too. By understanding the extreme positions we will be able to see the position of moderates. First, what we have is a confrontation of traditional religious positions and the liberal western tradition. To understand why animal offerings are so loathsome to some we need to look at how western people see the human-animal relationship.
In modern society we are seeing a contention between some on how they view life, death, marriage and family. There has been a revolution in these areas since the 1960’s. We have all seen documentaries about DDT and the environment, oil drilling, water, the ozone layer and air pollution. Today it is “global warming.” These issues tried to say that it is in our best interest to confront these problems. Tropical rain forests were called “jungles” years ago but now people say they should not be stripped because there are rare species there that could give us advances in medicine. This idea is applied to plants and animals. We cannot let any animal go extinct because we are harming ourselves, so the logic goes.
Along with this concern for the utilization of these species for our benefit goes the concern for nature and the animals on a moral level as well. They contend that we must preserve nature in its original condition, not only for ourselves, but it is the moral thing to do. Nature, they say, is an entity with a distinct and independent existence. Construction of dams or waterways are being fought by environmentalists because they are afraid a certain creature may go extinct. To agree with the elimination of a certain species is morally wrong.
By the late sixties, the environmental movement had spread and Congress passed legislation for endangered species and organizations had set up funds for the welfare of animals. This led to movements that were concerned with cruelty to animals. Movies and documentaries were done showing cruelty in harvesting fur and certain fur trades were stopped. Poachers in Africa are being pursued and how veal calves are treated brought an outcry. This led to some giving animals an almost human quality. Certain emotions that we have for humans were now being experienced in the same intensity for animals. Animal protection is now called “animal welfare” and translates the idea that animals have the same emotions and interests with those needing “human welfare.”
These trends have brought forth a new way we view the animal-human relationship. In western society, it is now quite common to see people view each species with a certain sanctity that drives us to make sure they are safe. Then it went to having concern for individual members of every species. Any animal that was treated cruelly is viewed as a moral offense. The offender is judged in the same way as cruelty to a human would. The coming together of the sanctity of life for a species and the treatment of individual animals has brought forth another stage in the development of human concepts about the human-animal relationship. The next stage is the idea that animals, like humans, bear certain “rights.”
The idea of animal rights puts forth the notion that the use, killing or “murder” of any animal, even for medical research, is a moral offense. In 1977 there was an international symposium on this issue and 150 people signed a declaration entitled “A Declaration Against Speciesism.” It went on to say, “We condemn totally the infliction of suffering upon our brother animals, and the curtailment of their enjoyment, unless it be necessary for their individual benefit…We believe in the evolutionary and moral kinship of all animals and we declare our belief that all sentient creatures have rights to life, liberty and the quest for happiness” (“The Temple: Its Symbolism and Meaning Then and Now” by Joshua Berman, P.148).
What are the consequences of such an action? By saying “speciesism” they are saying that this is discriminatory, just like “racism” and prejudice is towards another race, or discrimination towards another sex is “sexism.” By saying “evolutionary kinship” they mean that humans are just another expression of the evolutionary process and is no different than the animal evolutionary process. By “moral kinship” they mean that animals have the same rights as humans.
Now, we know that these ideas are not in the majority in western culture, but there examples of this in western culture. The word “zoo” is short for zoology and it is a place where living beings live and can be seen. Animal rights activists oppose such terms because these “animals are being penned for our pleasure.” So, certain zoos have changed their names to wildlife conservation societies.
As a result, this gives us an idea as to why animal sacrifice, as prescribed in the Torah, is very upsetting to some. But this is not the only reason why animal sacrifices are opposed. Animals in recent years have attained an elevated status. Why have animals achieved such a status? How does one come to the conclusion that man and animals are equal? What has caused the estimation of man to decline to such an extent that this conclusion can be made to begin with?
In Part 6 we will pick up here?