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Why Can't We Bring a Passover Sacrifice Nowadays?

Why Can't We Bring a Passover Sacrifice Nowadays?

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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?

Reply

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?

Historical Perspective

In 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.1

While 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.2

Additionally, some point to the following Talmudic anecdote as possible evidence of this sacrifice being offered post Temple:3

The Mishnah relates that Rabban Gamliel instructed his servant Tevi to roast the Paschal lamb for him.4 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?

According 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).5

So the sacrifice may have been offered after Temple times. But why?

Sacrifices Without the Temple

Let 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.6 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 an exception.

Impurity and Time-Bound Sacrifices

One 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.7

However, 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.8 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

But there is another issue:

Almost 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.9

Thus, the only sacrifice that is time-specific but isn’t bought with communal funds is the Korban Pesach.

To 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.

Practical Implications

The 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.10

This 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 heated up.

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).11 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.12

The Rebbe’s instructions to leave Jerusalem on Passover eve were in effect for eight years following the Six-Day War.

In 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 Passover eve.13

The 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!

For further information on this topic, I recommend readingWhy Haven’t the Jews Rebuilt the Holy Temple Yet?

Footnotes
1.
Kaftor VeFerach, ch. 6.
2.
See Sheilat Yaavitz 1:89 and responsum of Chatam Sofer, Yoreh Deiah 236 (writing to his famed father-in-law, Rabbi Akiva Aiger).
3.
See Sheilat Yaavitz 1:89.
4.
Talmud, Pesachim 74a.
5.
Sheilat Yaavitz 1:89, See, however, Seder Hadorot, Rabban Gamliel of Yavna, who, while agreeing it was the later Rabban Gamliel, writes that this took place before the destruction of the Temple.
6.
See Mishnah Ediyot 8:6; Talmud, Megillah 10, Shevuot 16a and Zevachim 62a; and Rambam, Hilchot Beit Habechira 6:15. See also Magen Avraham, Orach Chaim 561:2 and Mishnah Berurah 561:5. See, however, Rabad on the Rambam, Hilchot Beit Habechira 6:15, where he disagrees, as well as the commentary of Ri Migash on Talmud, Shevuot 16a, where he is of the opinion that the Talmud was referring to an instance of a temporary absence of the Temple walls, such as what occurred during the period of the reconstruction of the Second Temple.
7.
Leviticus 22:2;Talmud, Sanhedrin 83a and Zevachim 15b. See also Rambam, Hilchot Biyat Hamikdash 4:1; Magen Avraham, Orach Chaim 561:2; and Mishnah Berurah 561:5.
8.
Talmud, Yoma 50a; Rambam, Hilchot Biyat Hamikdash 4:9-10.
9.
Sheilat Yaavitz 1:89, and responsum of Chasam Sofer, Yoreh Deiah 236. See also the Mahartz Chajes in Kunteres Acharon, Avodat Hakodesh.
10.
See responsum from Chasam Sofer, Yoreh Deiah 236, in which he replied to an apparent request by his revered father-in-law, Rabbi Akiva Eiger, to use his government connections to get permission to offer sacrifices on the Temple Mount. He replied that the Temple Mount is unfortunately currently covered by a mosque that is sacred to its Muslim rulers, who would never permit any non-Muslim to step foot there.
12.
See talk delivered by the Lubavitcher Rebbe on the last day of Passover, 5728 (1968). Torat Menachem, vol. 52, p. 307.
13.
See Igrot Kodesh, vol. 30, p. 200.
Rabbi Yehuda Shurpin responds to questions for Chabad.org's Ask the Rabbi service.
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Steve E Abraham New York April 5, 2016

question In your essay you wrote, "One of the main issues with bringing a sacrifice nowadays is that we are all in a state of ritual impurity". Can you explain this? Why? Reply

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