Jewish Law

What’s the Truth about . . . the Korbanot?


Misconception: Leading authorities including Rambam and Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak HaCohen Kook maintain that korbanot, animal sacrifices, will not be reinstated in the time of the Third Temple but will be replaced with grain offerings.

Fact: Rambam and Rav Kook never assert that animal sacrifices will not be reinstated in the Third Temple.

Background: Temple ritual and animal sacrifices comprise a large part of the Torah’s text and commandments. Their description features prominently in the Musaf prayer service of Shabbat and holidays, and the daily prayer service includes a request for the restoration of the sacrificial order. But animal sacrifices have not been practiced for approximately 1,900 years and many contemporary Jews have difficulty relating to the concept of animal sacrifice.

Despite the centrality of korbanot in our liturgy and tradition, some claim that Rambam maintained that in the future there will be no animal sacrifices. This claim is based on Rambam’s rationale for why sacrifices were originally instituted. In his philosophical work (Moreh Nevuchim 3:32), Rambam argues that because human nature is such that people cannot instantaneously abandon existing religious practices, God retained the practice of animal sacrifices. This ancient practice of the idolaters was redirected toward worshipping the true God.1 Rambam similarly explains (Moreh Nevuchim 3:46) why particular animal species are used for korbanot in specific contexts based upon sacrificial practices of the ancient world.2

In his other writings, Rambam sheds additional light on his vision of the future. In his halachic work, Mishneh Torah, also known as Yad HaChazakah, he describes (Hilchot Melachim 11:1) what Mashiach will accomplish, and it becomes quite clear that he believes there will be animal sacrifices in the future Temple. Rambam writes that Mashiach will build the Temple and gather in the dispersed Jews. Then the laws will “be in effect as in the days of yore,” such that sacrifices will be offered3 and shemittah and yovel will be fully observed as prescribed in the Torah. Elsewhere (Hilchot Meilah 8:8) Rambam approvingly quotes the rabbinic adage that the world exists due to the merit of the sacrificial service. Rambam’s Yad is not a history book and it only consists of laws that in his opinion are or will be relevant; of the fourteen books that constitute the work, two (Avodah and Korbanot) are devoted entirely to sacrifices.

In his third major work, the Commentary on the Mishnah, Rambam identifies Thirteen Principles of Faith (in the introduction to the tenth chapter of Sanhedrin). Based on these Principles, it seems unlikely Rambam believed that there will not be sacrifices in the future. The Ninth Principle is that the Torah and its laws are immutable. If the Torah’s laws can never change, then obviously, irrespective of the reason for sacrifices, once they were commanded, they remain in effect for all eternity. In his legal code as well (Yesodei HaTorah 9:1), Rambam is emphatic that nothing in the Torah can change and that no prophet can alter a jot of the law. Other authorities do not subscribe so rigorously to this tenet.4 Rambam, however, does. Thus, in his view, there certainly will be sacrifices in the future.5

The Meshech Chochmah (introduction to Sefer Vayikra) tries to reconcile the two explanations for sacrifices—that of Rambam (that korbanot are a concession to the idolatry of the ancient world) and that of the Ramban (that korbanot have inherent value). He suggests that sacrifices offered on bamot (“high places” – i.e., private altars that were permissible prior to the construction of the Temple) were in response to idolatrous desires as explained by Rambam in Moreh Nevuchim. Because the people were weaned from such desires by the time the Temple was erected, the permissibility of that modality expired. However, korbanot in the Beit Hamikdash have an intrinsic value, as described in great detail in the Yad, and will never be abolished.

Rabbi Baruch HaLevi Epstein (Tosefet Berachah, Leviticus 1:2) defends Rambam against attacks such as those by the Ramban. He demonstrates that Rambam’s position in Moreh Nevuchim is based on the words of Chazal in Vayikra Rabbah (on verse 17:3) and the Mechilta (to verse 12:21), and is even alluded to in the Torah (Vayikra 17:7).

Moshe Narboni (thirteenth century) wrote a commentary on Moreh Nevuchim in which he explains that Rambam never viewed korbanot as a “concession.” Rather, he viewed animal sacrifice as an innate human need that was also practiced by idolaters. Abarbanel (introduction to Leviticus, chap. 4) cites and rejects this interpretation, preferring to accept Rambam’s thesis at face value—that sacrifices were instituted primarily as a means to wean Bnei Yisrael away from avodah zarah. Nevertheless, Abarbanel maintains that Rambam believed that important messages about man’s relationship to God are contained within the myriad laws pertaining to sacrifices. Abarbanel proceeds to cite examples of the profound symbolism contained within the intricate halachot concerning korbanot, as found in Rambam.6

Rabbi Yosef Dov Soloveitchik (“Two Strains of Maimonidean Thought,” in The Halakhic Mind [New York, 1998], 91) contrasts Rambam’s approach in the Guide to the Perplexed and in the Yad and notes that the Jewish people have, in general, ignored most of Rambam’s rationalizations. In this context (see ibid., note 108) he opines that philosophically, Ramban’s interpretation of sacrifices is superior to Rambam’s, and in Al HaTeshuvah (p. 166-7 in Hebrew, 267-8 in English) Rav Soloveitchik refers to Ramban’s approach.

The claim that Rav Kook believed that animal sacrifices will not be reinstituted when the Temple is rebuilt7 is based on one sentence in his commentary to the siddur. Commenting on the “Yehi Ratzon” at the end of the Shemoneh Esrei, “v’arvah laHashem minchat Yehuda v’Yerushalayim kimei olam uch’shanim kadmoniyot—then shall the offering of Judah and Jerusalem be pleasant to the Lord as in the days of old and as in the ancient years” (Malachi 3:4; first line of the haftarah for Shabbat HaGadol), Rav Kook wrote: “In the future, the abundance of knowledge will spread to and penetrate even animals . . . and the sacrifices, which will then be from grain,8 will be as pleasing to God as in days of old in yesteryear [when there were animal sacrifices] . . . ” (Olat Reiyah, vol. 1 [Jerusalem, 1983], 292). This has led some to claim that Rav Kook believed that there will only be vegetarian sacrifices in the Third Beit Hamikdash.

However, elsewhere, Rav Kook states his belief that there will be animal sacrifices in the Third Temple. He writes: “And regarding sacrifices, it is more correct to believe that everything will return to its place, and God willing, be fulfilled when the redemption comes, and prophecy and the Divine spirit return to Israel” (Iggrot HaReiyah, vol. 4 [Jerusalem, 1984], 23-5, letter 994; Rabbi Chaim Hirschensohn, Malki Bakodesh, vol. 4 [Jerusalem], letter 1, p. gimmel). It seems that Rav Kook believes that sacrifices will be reinstated, and also that at that time people will have a renewed understanding and appreciation of the role of sacrifices.

Rav Kook thus maintains that in the Messianic Age there will be animal sacrifices. However, he also quotes Kabbalistic sources (see Otzerot HaReiyah, vol. 2 [2002], 101-103 and Kevatzim Mi’ktav Yad Kadsho, vol. 2 [5768], 15-16) that describe some other, far distant future, when the whole nature of the world will change, and animals will be on a human level. Then, of course, no sacrifices will be brought from these “intelligent” animals. It would seem that according to Rav Kook’s understanding, it is about this far-distant period that Malachi (3:4) prophesized. Rav Kook’s vision of an ideal world with only vegetarian sacrifices will come much later in the Messianic period, and follow techiyat hameitim.9

It would be quite strange to posit that there will be no animal sacrifices in the Third Temple in light of the fact that Jews have prayed thrice daily in Shemoneh Esrei for nearly 2,000 years “v’hasheiv et ha’avodah lidvir veisecha, v’ishei Yisrael.” In the Musaf service, the sacrifices prescribed by the Torah for that day are clearly delineated, and we conclude with a prayer stating that we hope to merit to one day bring these sacrifices again. Similarly, at the Pesach Seder and in the Musaf of Yom Kippur, we conclude with the fervent prayer seeking the reinstatement of sacrifices in the Temple.10

Not only do we find the theme of the restoration of sacrifices repeated throughout the liturgy, there is an opinion that there will even be “make-up sacrifices” for all those that were missed during the last 1,900 years! In the standard Musaf prayer, we pray that the Temple be restored so that we can bring the “[Korban] Musaf of this very day [‘hazeh’].” That request might seem strange, given the fact that obviously we cannot offer the sacrifices meant to be offered on that very day. Sefer HaManhig (Hilchot Hallel [twelfth century], 263-4, 1978 ed.) explains that “hazeh” indicates that indeed all missed sacrifices over the generations will be brought, and one should not wonder where all the animals for those make-up sacrifices will come from (more than 25,000 missed Rosh Chodashim!) because the prophet has already guaranteed that the animals will gather together for that purpose (Isaiah 60:7). Taking a different position than that of the Sefer HaManhig, Rabbi Chaim Berlin11 states that all missed Rosh Chodesh korbanot will be offered, not as a Musaf, but as “voluntary offerings.”

The notion of offering make-up sacrifices is found in the writings of one of the early Chassidic masters, Rabbi Tzvi Elimelech Shapira of Dinov (1783?-1841). He states12 that with the building of the Beit Hamikdash, it will be mandatory to bring all past-due sin-offerings.13 He also explains the perplexing use of the word “zeh”14 in Musaf by citing the opinion of Menahem Azariah da Fano (1548-1620), who states that in the future, all communal sacrifices that were missed over the centuries will be offered. Elaborating on this topic in his more famous work (Bnei Yissaschar, Ma’amar Rosh Chodesh, ma’amar 2:3,8, cf. 3:7), he explains that after the building of the Third Temple, when the first Rosh Chodesh Nissan comes along, all of the missed Rosh Chodesh Nissan Korbanot Musaf will be offered, and on Shabbat Parashat Naso, all the missed Korbanot Musaf of Shabbat Naso will be offered, et cetera.

This explanation for the word “zeh” was referred to by Sephardic rabbinic authorities too. The Ben Ish Chai (year 2:Vayikra 19) quotes the explanation of the Bnei Yissaschar. Rabbi Yechia Tzalach, the leader of Yemenite Jewry in the eighteenth century, reports15 asking his teacher about the word “zeh,” who quoted the answer cited in Sefer HaManhig.

Rabbi Shlomo Hakohen Rabinowicz of Radomsk (d. 1866; Tiferet Shlomo, Shabbat Kodesh, 63-4), based on “zeh,” says that one missed Korban Tamid and Korban Musaf, as well as individual sacrifices, will be offered in the soon-to-be-rebuilt Temple, as suggested in Joel 2:25.

Some who support the claim that Rambam and Rav Kook believe animal sacrifice will have no place in the Third Temple attempt to argue that sacrifices were always a concession and that God actually disdains the practice. Examples of oft-cited verses from Tanach that they use are: “To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices to Me?” (Isaiah 1:11); “For I spoke not unto your fathers . . . concerning burnt-offerings or sacrifice. But this thing I commanded them: ‘Obey My voice and I will be your God’” (Jeremiah 7:21); “For I [God] desire mercy, and not sacrifice, and the knowledge of God rather than burnt-offerings” (Hosea 6:6) and many others. But as is evident when reading the verses in context, the prophets are not railing against sacrifices per se, but rather against sacrifices that are not accompanied by compassion for others and knowledge of God. In fact, these very same prophets, Ezekiel in particular, prophesized about the renewal of the sacrificial order.16

It is clear that animal sacrifices have deep spiritual value. Each one of the Avot brought animal sacrifices. In numerous places throughout Nach, the prophets express their longing for the restoration of the Temple service. Finally, the Talmud takes it as a given that sacrifices will be reinstated.

So will there be sacrifices in the Third Temple? The overwhelming majority opinion is that there will be. Rambam and Rav Kook seem to share this view. It should be noted that while Rav Kook envisioned the restoration of the sacrificial rite, in his view, that period would also include a return of prophecy and the Divine spirit to the nation.


1. The Ramban takes issue with this position of Rambam. He argues that animal sacrifices predated idolatry as evidenced from the fact that Hevel (Genesis 4:4) and Noach (Genesis 8:20) brought sacrifices that were pleasing to God. He writes (on Genesis 4:3-4) that “these should muzzle the mouth of those [i.e., Rambam] who utter vapor concerning the reason for sacrifices.” He calls Rambam’s idea foolish, and he offers (on Leviticus 1:9) a different understanding of sacrifices, similar to that suggested by Ibn Ezra (on Leviticus 1:1), which emphasizes the idea that the sinner should be the one sacrificing himself to God, not the animal. The act of bringing a sacrifice should cause one to reflect on his own mortality and result in true teshuvah. On the debate between Rambam and the Ramban, see Roy Pinchot, “The Deeper Conflict Between Maimonides and Ramban Over the Sacrifices,” Tradition 33:3 (1999), available here: Rabbi Yehudah Halevi (Kuzari, Ma’amar 2:25-26; 3:53) has his own understanding of sacrifices.

2. Rambam maintained that the reason for several mitzvot were because of idolatrous practices that existed at the time of Matan Torah. These include the negative commandments of kilayim (not to crossbreed seeds), not to cut one’s beard with a razor, the ban against tattoos, not to cook milk and meat together and orlah (not to eat the fruit of a tree during the first three years).

3. Technically, sacrifices can be offered even in the absence of the Temple structure (Zevachim 62a; Rambam, Hilchot Beit Habechirah 2:4).

4. See Marc Shapiro, The Limits of Orthodox Theology: Maimonides’ Thirteen Principles Reappraised (Oxford, 2004), 8:122-131.

5. One might think that other changes will be possible in the future, such as offering sacrifices from other animal species once they too will be domesticated, as per Isaiah 11:6-7. Based on Psalms 51:19-21, Eidut B’Yehosef (cited in Rabbi Alexander Zusia Friedman’s Ma’ayana shel Torah to Leviticus 1:2) derives that even in the future, Temple sacrifices will only be performed with animals specified in the Torah.

6. On the depth of Rambam’s approach, see Rabbi Eliyahu Dessler, Michtav M’Eliyahu, vol. 4 (1983), 173-5.

7. See, for example, where it says: “Rav Kook suggests that animal sacrifices would not be brought back . . . ”

8. The verse uses the word “Minchah,” which Rav Kook seems to take to mean “grain offering.” Former Tel Aviv Chief Rabbi Rabbi Chaim David HaLevi (d. 1998; Aseh Lecha Rav, vol. 9 [Tel Aviv, 1975], 120-1), unaware of Rav Kook’s understanding of the verse in Malachi (he says in a note that his son-in-law later pointed it out to him), says that “Minchah” in Tanach never means animal sacrifices. Thus, possibly, he wrote, Malachi was predicting a future without animal sacrifices. He says that he wrote it hesitatingly because it is an original idea stated neither by Bible commentators nor by Chazal. This is all quite surprising, because in Tanach, “Minchah” can simply mean “offering,” including animal sacrifices. The most obvious example is Bereishit 4:4, but see also I Samuel 2:17, 29 and Shoftim 6:18-19. In these contexts, Minchah clearly means animal sacrifices, and it seems that the commentaries to Malachi also understand Minchah as denoting “gift,” i.e., all sacrifices.

9. Rav Kook invested a great deal of time mastering the laws of the Temple and sacrifices, even studying in the Chofetz Chaim’s special group that trained Kohanim to serve in the rebuilt Temple. For a detailed analysis of his position, see David Sperber, “Korbanot L’atid Lavo” in Mishnat HaReiyah, in Rabbi Shmuel Sperber, Ra’ayot HaReiyah (Jerusalem, 1992), 9: 97-112.

10. Despite all that has been said, there are rabbinic authorities (none of whom were the stature of Rambam or Rav Kook) who suggest that animal sacrifices might not be reinstated in the days of the Third Temple. The Ashkenazic Rabbi Simcha Paltrovitch (d. 1926; Simchat Avot [New York, 1917], 7-8) says that while the Torah can never be changed, instead of actual sacrifices, those sections of the Torah dealing with korbanot will be interpreted via “remez” or “sod.” Alternatively, he suggests that in the seventh millennium there will be a Messianic period where animal sacrifice will be reinstated; however, in the eighth millennium there will be a more rarified period where animal sacrifice will not be practiced. As part of a long list of potential “changes” in halachah, the Moroccan Rabbi Yosef Messas (d. 1974; Otzar Hamichtavim, vol. 2, no. 1305, 249-251) suggests, based on Rambam, that it is possible to say that in the future there won’t be animal sacrifices, or that there will only be the Korban Todah (an animal sacrifice). Rabbi Chaim Hirschensohn, from Bayonne, New Jersey, and a brother-in-law of Rabbi Zvi Pesach Frank, also envisions a Third Temple without animal sacrifices (Malki Bakodesh, vol. 6 [Jerusalem, 1928], 96 and elsewhere). He has a novel explanation for the origin of sacrifices and it was to him that Rav Kook wrote the letter (cited in Iggrot HaReiyah) explicitly stating that there will be sacrifices. For more about Rabbi Hirschensohn’s position on sacrifices (Vayikra Rabbah 9:7), see Marc Shapiro, The Limits of Orthodox Theology (Oxford, 2011), 128-130 and online:

11. See note 77 in the Mossad Harav Kook edition of Sefer HaManhig (Jerusalem), 264.

12. Derech Pikudecha, introduction 5, section 7.

13. The Talmud records (Shabbat 12b) that Rav Yishmael once accidently violated Shabbat and wrote a note for himself that said, “I, Yishmael ben Elisha . . . when the Temple will be rebuilt, will bring a fat chatat offering.” Clearly, he believed and hoped that there would be a Third Temple in his time and that its service would include sin offerings. The Ben Ish Chai (Shu”t Torah Lishmah, 120) quotes this in a halachic discussion.

14. There is a discussion in the halachic literature whether the word “zeh” even belongs in the prayer.

15. Eitz Chaim commentary to Tichlael (siddur) on Shabbat Musaf (p. 630 in 5772 ed.).

16. See Jacob Chinitz, “Were the Prophets Opposed to Sacrifice?,” Jewish Bible Quarterly 36 (April-June 2008):2, available at


This article was featured in the Winter 2014 issue of Jewish Action.
We'd like to hear what you think about this article. Post a comment or email us at