Why do Jews no longer offer animal sacrifices?

Do you know the reason given as to why Jewish people no longer offer
sacrifices. I have read that in the time of the exile, more weight was
given to study of the law and scribes, but even then, the Levitical line
was preserved and once the captives returned, sacrifices and temple
worship were reinstated. As far as I know, this has not been possible
since the temple was destroyed in 70AD. Why do they not pursue it? For
Christians, we have a new covenant, but from their perspective, wouldn’t
they still be under the same covenant – the old law? Thank you for your
response.

That is a very good question! The answer is just a little bit
complicated. In the earlier period of Israelite history, the Jews were
willing to offer sacrifices at other places than the “authorized” place
for sacrifice. While the tabernacle and ark were in Bethel, some groups
of Jews gave sacrifice in the city of Dan, for example. After the temple
was built in Jerusalem, there were still examples of different groups of
Jews who offered unsanctioned sacrifice to Jehovah elsewhere, for example
at Samaria. Even later, a group of Jews who had been exiled to
Elephantine in Egypt built an alternative temple there and offered
sacrifice. This was as late as the 400′s BC.

Eventually, after the second temple was built in 516 BC, the
Jews settled down to only sacrificing in Jerusalem. As far as I know,
despite the broad diaspora of the Jews, by the third century BC, there was
little if any example of Jews attempting to offer sacrifices anywhere
besides the temple in Jerusalem. For about four hundred continuous years
of Jewish history, animal sacrifice was only offered at the temple in
Jerusalem. This idea (which happens to agree with what God had said)
became deeply ingrained in Judaism. However, it was during this time that
the synagogue movement began. Although Jews only offered sacrifice in
Jerusalem, because of the broad diaspora of the nation, the Jews began to
develop a parallel system of teaching and worship, especially in the
Jewish communities which were far from Jerusalem. Eventually, this
institution even became important in Judea, not just in the distant
communities of Jews. As you imply, the synagogue became a center of
Jewish teaching and eventually even a modernized form of Jewish worship.

All this came to a head in AD 70. When Titus destroyed the
temple in Jerusalem, it brought to an end once and for all the legitimate,
authorized sacrifices to God. For political and historical reasons,
partly due to Roman policies, the temple was never rebuilt in Jerusalem.
After the great mosque was built on the temple site in the seventh century
AD, the issue of rebuilding the temple in Jerusalem seems to have become a
dead issue. Future history will tell if that will continue to be the
case.

Anyway, once the temple was destroyed, this led to a crisis in
Jewish worship. Because the institution of the synagogue had already
begun, it rapidly became the chief focus of Jews wherever they were.
That is why I said the question is “complicated.” The destruction of the
temple did not create the synagogue, but it dramatically increased its
importance. It might seem surprising that the Jews did not at least try
to reinstitute animal sacrifice at locations outside Jerusalem. However,
by the first century AD the idea of sacrifice being only in Jerusalem was
so deeply ingrained in the Jewish mindset that this did not happen. In my
research, I once found a reference to a rather obscure Jewish group in the
period after the destruction of the temple offering some sacrifices, but I
do not have this reference right now. Either way, we know that the idea
of sacrificing animals in a location outside Jerusalem was rejected by the
vast majority of Jews.

To an outsider, the idea of a form of Judaism which does not
include sacrifice of animals in Jerusalem seems very hard to understand.
That is because we base our understanding of Judaism on our reading of the
Old Testament. It is worth understanding that modern Jews do not base
their concept of Judaism principally on their individual reading of the
Jewish Bible, but rather on the teachings and traditions of the Rabbis and
the worship at the synagogues. Once the Rabbis came to accept Jewish
worship without animal sacrifice, Jews in general accepted it as well.
For the Jews, the idea of being Jewish without making sacrifices seems
less strange than it does to a Bible-reader. It is worth remembering that
there is historical precedent for this. During the time of the exile in
Assyria and Babylon, between the two temples, Jews got used to worship of
God and being “Jewish” without sacrificing animals.

John Oakes, PhD

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