I was always under the impression
that although the Paschal lamb was the focal point of the Passover celebration
during Temple times, we can’t bring sacrifices these days. However, in an
online discussion, someone claimed that we actually canbring the Paschal
lamb nowadays. Was he right? And if yes, why don’t we?
The issue of bringing a Korban
Pesach, the Passover sacrifice, nowadays is a fascinating topic. The truth is
that your friend has a somewhat valid point, since the Korban Pesach is a
unique offering which poses unique possibilities. Like all sacrifices, it may
only be brought on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. But does there need to be a
Temple standing for the sacrifice to be brought?
1306, when the Jews were expelled from France, Rabbi Ashtori HaParchi, author
of the Kaftor VaFerach, settled in Israel. He recounts how he traveled to
Jerusalem for an approbation for his work from a certain Rabbi Baruch, who
related that in the Jewish year 5017 (1257), the famed Tosafist Rabbi Yechiel (or in some editions, Rabbi Chananel) of
Paris planned to come to Jerusalem to offer sacrifices. Rabbi Ashtori writes
that at the time, he was preoccupied with completing his work and did not ask
about the various halachic issues involved with bringing sacrifices nowadays,
but he then goes into a lengthy discussion of just that.
there is no evidence of Rabbi Yechiel’s plans ever coming to fruition, most
rabbis explain, for reasons that we will discuss later, that his plan was to
bring the Paschal lamb.
some point to the following Talmudic anecdote as possible evidence of this
sacrifice being offered post Temple:
Mishnah relates that Rabban Gamliel instructed his servant Tevi to roast the
Paschal lamb for him. Now, there were two Mishnaic
sages by the name of Rabban Gamliel, a grandfather and a grandson. Rabban
Gamliel the Elder lived during the time of the Second Temple, whereas his
grandson, Rabban Gamliel of Yavneh, lived shortly after its destruction. So
which one was it?
to Rabbi Yaakov Emdin, known as the Yaavitz (1697-1776), it was the latter
Rabban Gamliel, and this incident took place after the destruction of the
Temple (at a time when the location of the Altar was possibly still known).
the sacrifice may have been offered after Temple times. But why?
Sacrifices Without the Temple
us first answer that question with another question: Why not?
According to most codifiers, including
Maimonides, one may in theory bring a sacrifice at the location where the Altar
stood on the Temple Mount, even in the absence of the actual Temple structure. However, this view is not
universally accepted, and as I explain here, there are lots of other
technicalities preventing the rebuilding of the Temple and the bringing of an
offering at present.
But the Paschal Lamb is somewhat of
Impurity and Time-Bound Sacrifices
of the main issues with bringing a sacrifice nowadays is that we are all in a
state of ritual impurity, and it is forbidden to bring a sacrifice (or enter
the Temple area, for that matter) while impure.
while this is true for most sacrifices, when it comes to sacrifices that must
be offered on a specific day, the halachah
is that they may be brought even while in a state of impurity. Practically, this means that
the daily Tamid offering and the special Shabbat and holiday offerings,
including the Paschal lamb, may be brought in a state of impurity.
Half-Shekel and Communal Sacrifices
there is another issue:
all of the sacrifices listed above are communal sacrifices. According to most
authorities, a communal sacrifice had to be bought using the “half-shekel tax” that was collected from
every Jew, rendering a communal sacrifice truly “communal.” Today, besides for
it being extremely difficult to collect such a tax, there is also no actual
obligation to do so.
the only sacrifice that is time-specific but isn’t bought with communal funds
is the Korban Pesach.
be sure, there are many other issues with offering a sacrifice: identifying the
exact spot to build the altar, determining how to craft the uniforms for the kohanim (priests), and even determining
who is a kohen. In fact, entire works
have been devoted to the controversy and possible solutions. Thus, there is
only a remote possibility that we could even bring the Korban Pesach today.
topic of offering the Korban Pesach has been hotly debated over the centuries,
with proponents including Rabbi Tzvi Hersh Kalisher, a 19th century rabbi of
Thorn, Germany, who published an entire work, Derishat Tzion, not only claiming
that it is permissible to bring a Paschal lamb nowadays at the location where
the Altar used to stand on the Temple Mount, but that there is an obligation to
do so. Practically, however, this debate was not relevant for most of our long
exile, since the Temple Mount was always under the control of non-Jewish rulers
who would never allow Jews to bring a sacrifice there.
all changed with the retaking of Jerusalem by the Israeli army in 1967.
Suddenly, this was a question with real-life implications. And the debate
The Lubavitcher rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneersohn of
righteous memory, initially took a somewhat middle-of-the-road position. On the
one hand, he agreed that it was highly doubtful that one would actually be
required to bring a Korban Pesach today.
On the other hand, the verse states that if one is obligated and able to
bring a Korban Pesach but fails to do so, he is liable for karet (spiritual excision).
So the Rebbe advocated, albeit never as a public campaign, that Jews leave
Jerusalem on the 14th of Nissan (and again on the 14th of Iyar), since if one
is at a distance from Jerusalem at the appointed time, he isn’t halachically
required to bring a Korban Pesach. Thus, they avoided the issue.
Rebbe’s instructions to leave Jerusalem on Passover eve were in effect for
eight years following the Six-Day War.
1975, the Rebbe wrote a letter explaining that due to the changed political and
security situation, there was no longer a real possibility of building an altar
on the Temple Mount. Therefore, he no longer saw the need to leave Jerusalem on
letter concludes with a fervent prayer for the end of exile and for the
rebuilding of the Holy Temple—may it be speedily in our days!
information on this topic, I recommend readingWhy Haven’t the Jews
Rebuilt the Holy Temple Yet?