Quite a large number of people have wrote and asked me the following question, or variations thereto:
Q. It is my understanding that Jews still live under the Law of the Torah. So
when did the Jewish people stop making blood sacrifices and why did they
A. Let me begin by telling you some of the history of sacrifices. The first to offer a sacrifice to Hashem were the brothers Cain and Abel. They brought the sacrifices as praises to Hashem. Cain brought vegetation, which was not a bad idea, since it was the work of his own hands. The problem was that he brought his worst produce, as he did not really wish to bring a sacrifice at all.
Abel, by contrast, brought one of his best animals. Hashem was pleased with his intentions. We all know the result of that incident. Cain later repented his murdering Abel, and he was forgiven. Note, by the way, that Cain did not bring a sacrifice for atonement, and yet he was forgiven his sin.
Many people brought sacrifices to Hashem, for many reasons, and in many places. After the Flood, Noah brought many sacrifices as well.
Abraham, of course, brought sacrifices, and was even willing to sacrifice his son when he thought Hashem wanted him to. Of course, as we know, Hashem had never intended that Abraham actually bring Isaac as a sacrifice, Hashem merely wanted Abraham to think that. Abraham passed the test, and human sacrifice has never become a part of our heritage.
When we, the Children of Israel, received the Torah from Hashem at Mount Sinai, a new era was begun. New Laws came into effect, concomitant with our new status. One of the many new Laws was the Law that we were no longer allowed to bring sacrifices to Hashem just anywhere. Certain sacrifices were permitted on specially hallowed altars, but others had to be brought only in the Tabernacle, the first Sanctuary. That Sanctuary was a mobile Sanctuary, and was intended to be temporary.
When the Children of Israel entered the land of Canaan, whose name Hashem changed to the Land of Israel, the Tabernacle was given a more steady home. Nevertheless, it moved about five times to different places. For a short while, the Holy Ark was in the hands of the Philistines, but the Tabernacle was not moved at that time.
In Shiloh they built a stone building for the Tabernacle, and it stayed there for 369 year. I have heard a rumor that archeologists have found some relics on the site. If that’s true, that would certainly be interesting.
By this time, it was no longer permissible to build altars just anywhere. Now the restrictions were even greater. Certain sacrifices were still permitted at any hallowed altar, but not as many as before. When the two and a half Tribes that lived in Trans-Jordan built an altar, there was an uproar about it, until they explained that the altar was on the order of a banner, a reminder, not a place for sacrifices (see Joshua 22:9-34).
The ultimate plan was for a Holy Temple, where the mobile Sanctuary would find a permanent resting place, so to speak. The Torah explicitly commands that once the Holy Temple is built no sacrifices at all may be brought anywhere else. And that is irrevocable Law. Once the Holy Temple was dedicated and in operation, it was forbidden for Israelites to bring sacrifices anywhere else in the world.
For example, we find that the Torah says, «You may not worship Hashem your G-d in such a manner. This you may do only on the site that Hashem your G-d will choose from among all your tribes to place His Name there. You must seek His Presence, and you must go there. You will bring there your elevated offerings, your eaten sacrifices, your tithes, your hand-delivered elevated gifts, your general and specific pledges, the first born of your cattle and flocks….» (Deut. 12:4-6).
And the Torah continues, «You will not do then what we do here now, where each person does as he sees fit. For you have not yet come to the resting place and hereditary land that Hashem your G-d giving you. When you cross the Jordan and you settle the land that Hashem your G-d is allotting you, and Hashem has granted you safety from all your enemies around you, and you are living securely, there will be a place that Hashem will choose to rest His Name there. It is to there you must bring all that I command you, your burnt elevated offerings, your eaten sacrirfices, your tithes, your elevated gifts, and all your choice pledges that you might pledge to Hashem» (Deut 12:8-11).
As if this were not strong enough, the Torah warns us: «Watch yourself! Lest you bring your burnt elevated offerings in any place you see fit. Only in the place that Hashem will choose, somewhere from among your tribes, there shall your bring your burnt elevated offerings, and there you must do all that I command you concerning this.» (Deut 12:13-14)
Once the Holy Temple was built, we were no longer permitted to bring sacrifices anywhere else.
And the clock could not be moved back. The earlier eras are gone, and cannot
be restored. Once the Holy Temple was built, the Laws of all previous eras and
situations were no longer relevant. That is what the Torah commands.
When King Solomon built the Holy Temple, he prayed that if the Jews get captured and taken away from the land of Israel, they should be able to pray and Hashem should hear their prayers, even when they are not at the Holy Temple (1 Kings 8:46-49). But he explicitly says pray, because outside of the Holy Temple we may not offer any sacrifices.
When the First Holy Temple was destroyed, there was no place to bring sacrifices. It was, in fact, forbidden to bring sacrifices, since there was no Temple. We then asked Hashem, how will we attain atonement? Hashem said, through Hosea: «Take words with you and return to Hashem. Say to Him, ‘Forgive all sin and accept the good we do. We will offer prayer instead of animals» (Hosea 14:3).
And King solomon also teaches us, «He who conceals his sins will not succeed, but he who confesses and abandons them will obtain mercy» (Proverbs 28:13). While it is true that there is more to repentance than that, anyone who follows those two basic instructions — confess your sin to Hashem and stop committing the sin — Hashem will have mercy on that person.
So, where it is impossible to bring sacrifices, we can be forgiven through repentance, confession and prayer. But when it is possible to bring sacrifices, we are required to, and we must. As King David prophesied, «Do good, as You see fit, to Zion. May You rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. Then will You desire the sacrifices brought by the righteous, burnt offerings and whole offerings; bullocks will then be offered upon Your altar» (Psalms 51:20-21).
After seventy years of Babylonian Exile, just as the Prophet Daniel had promised, the exile ended. Many Jews returned to the Holy Land, and we once again built the Holy Temple. And still it was forbidden to bring sacrifices anywhere else.
420 years later, the Holy Temple was destroyed again, this time by the Romans. Once again, we were in exile. This time, the Rabbis told us, the exile will last very long, and no end date is known.
And when the Messiah comes, the Holy Temple will be rebuilt, and once again we will bring sacrifices on the Holy Altar there, as it says «And the sacrificial offerings of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to Hashem, like in the olden days years ago» (Malachi 3:4).
It is still forbidden to bring sacrifices outside of the Holy Temple. We follow, today, the instructions taught us by King Solomon, the Prophet Hosea and the other Prophets, and we pray without bringing sacrifices.
In addition, when we wish to bring a sacrifice, we study the Laws of the particular sacrifice we wish to bring.
So the short answer to your question is that we can no longer bring Sacrifices because the Torah forbids us to bring any Sacrifices outside of the Holy Temple. Since we have no Holy Temple, and it is impossible for us to rebuild it at this time, we keep praying to Hashem that we should be able to rebuild it soon in peace, and once again be able to bring the Praise and Thanksgiving Sacrifices once again.
Why then, do we not simply rebuild the Holy Temple now? I discuss that in the next article in this series, «Why Don’t We Rebuild The Holy Temple?»