Carnivorous God

[First posted on The Times of Israel at:]

Ibn Ezra Leviticus: Vayikra

Carnivorous God

“The key to faith is what we are willing to sacrifice to obtain it.” -Elder Cloward

A significant portion of the Torah concerns itself with sacrifices, specifically animal sacrifices. There are chapters and chapters that go on about what type of animal should be offered on the altar, for what circumstances and with what accompanying service.

In our day and age the concept of animal sacrifice seems primitive and barbaric, yet it occupied a central part of Jewish practice for thousands of years. What was so vital about offering unblemished, productive animals in the prime of their lives to an apparently ravenous God?

Ibn Ezra (Leviticus 1:1) accentuates the importance further by noting that in Leviticus the animal sacrifices are mentioned before any other commandments. He explains that the sacrifices are what “keeps” God amongst us. He recalls a statement of the sages that when the daily Temple sacrifices stopped because of the siege of the city, God “left” the Temple and Jerusalem.

Perhaps it is the offering of something significant. Perhaps it is the offering of a living, breathing being. Perhaps the trauma of the death of an innocent animal should do something to us, to make us realize the seriousness of our encounter with God.

Later, in the Prophets, God states that He doesn’t “need” these sacrifices, that the mechanical offering of these beasts without any underlying feeling of remorse, repentance or closeness to God is murder.

How do we get a better understanding of “sacrifice” in our times and what mechanical offerings are we better off not doing?

Shabbat Shalom,



To the Jewish community of Uruguay, their sacrifice on behalf of their brothers. To the shlichim in Montevideo and their self-sacrifice. To Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks and his inspiring visit to the community of Uruguay.

Leave a Reply