In Judaism, the korban (קָרְבָּן qorbān), also spelled qorban or corban, is any of a variety of sacrificial offerings described and commanded in the Torah. The plural form is korbanot, korbanoth or korbans.
A korban was a kosher animal sacrifice, such as a bull, sheep, goat, or a dove that underwent shechita (Jewish Ritual Slaughter). Sacrifices could also consist of or include grain, meal, wine, or incense. Offerings were often cooked and most of it eaten by the offerer, with parts given to the Kohen priests and small parts burned on the altar of the Temple in Jerusalem. Only in special cases was all of the offering given only to God, such as in the case of the scapegoat and the olah offering. Common varieties of korban included the zevah (זֶבַח), peace offering, and olah.
The Hebrew Bible says that God commanded the Israelites to offer offerings and sacrifices on various altars. The sacrifices were only to be offered by the hands of the Kohanim. Before building the Temple in Jerusalem, when the Israelites were in the desert, sacrifices were only to be offered in the Tabernacle. After the invasion of Canaan, the main sacrificial centre was at Shiloh, though sacrifice also took place at Beit Shemesh, Mizpah, Ramah, and Gilgal, while family and clan sacrifices were commonplace Under Saul the main center of sacrifice was Nob, though private offerings continued to be made at Shiloh. David created a new sacrificial center in Jerusalem at the threshing floor of Araunaḥ, to which he moved the Ark. According to the Hebrew Bible, after the building of Solomon’s Temple, sacrifices were only to be carried out there.
After Solomon’s Temple was destroyed, sacrifices were resumed when the Second Temple was built until it was also destroyed in 70 CE. After the destruction of the Second Temple, sacrifices were prohibited because there was no longer a Temple, the only place allowed by halakha for sacrifices. Offering of sacrifices was briefly reinstated during the Jewish–Roman wars of the second century CE and was continued in certain communities thereafter.
When sacrifices were offered in ancient times, they were offered as a fulfillment of Biblical commandments. Since there is no longer a Temple, modern religious Jews instead pray or give tzedakah instead to atone for their sins as the korbon would have accomplished. According to the Jewish perception, the coming of the messiah will not remove the requirement to keep the 613 commandments, and when the Temple is rebuilt, sacrifices will be offered again.
Qorban and qarab
The Semitic root √qrb (קרב) means “be near”; other words from the root include qarov “close” and qerovim “relatives.” The same stem is found in Hebrew and, for example, in the Akkadian language noun aqribtu “act of offering.” The Hebrew feminine noun korban (plural ‘’korbanot’’ קָרְבֳּנוֹת) first occurs in the Bible in Leviticus 1:2 and occurs 80 times in the Masoretic Text; 40 times in Leviticus, 38 in Numbers and 2 in Ezekiel. The related form qurban appears only in the Book of Nehemiah 10:35 and 13:31 “wood offering.” Traditionally the etymology is from the verb stem qarab and indicates the purpose to bring man close to God.
The Septuagint generally translates the term in Koine Greek as δῶρον “gift”, θυσία “sacrifice”, or προσφορά “offering up”. By the Second Temple period, Hellenistic Jewish texts use korban specifically to mean a vow. The New Testament preserves korban once as a transliterated loan-word for a vow, once also a related noun, κορβανάς “temple treasury”, otherwise using δῶρον, θυσία or προσφορά and other terms drawn from the Septuagint. Josephus also generally uses other words for “offering” but uses korban for the vow of the Nazirites (Antiquities of the Jews 4:73 / 4,4,4) and cites Theophrastus as having cited a korban vow among the Tyrians (Against Apion 1.167 / 1,22,4).
Contrary to the view that korbanot in the Torah were for sins, their use was far more complex—only some korbanot were used to atone for unintentional sins, and these sacrifices only accompanied the important required core means of atonement to be ever considered legitimate. Besides this one exception, there were the overwhelming majority of other purposes for bringing korbanot, and the expiatory effect is often incidental, and is subject to significant limitations. Korbanot are brought purely for the purpose of communing with God and becoming closer to him. Also, they were brought for the purpose of expressing thanks, gratitude, and love to God.
Further, the use of korbanot was circumscribed for certain types of sins. Sins in Judaism consist of different grades of severity:
- The lightest is the ḥeṭ, ḥaṭṭa’ah, or ḥaṭṭat (lit. “fault,” “shortcoming,” “misstep”), an infraction of a commandment committed in ignorance of the existence or meaning of that command.
- The second kind is the awon, a breach of a minor commandment committed with a full knowledge of the existence and nature of that commandment (bemezid).
- The gravest kind is the pesha or mered, a presumptuous and rebellious act against God. Its worst form is the resha, such an act committed with a wicked intention.
These three terms are mentioned by the Psalmist (cvi. 6): “We have sinned [ḥaṭa’nu], . . . we have committed iniquity [he-‘ewinu], we have done wickedly [hirsha’nu]” (comp. I Kings viii. 47; Dan. ix. 5).
With few exceptions, korbanot could only be used as a means of atoning for the first type of sin, that is sins committed in ignorance that the thing was a sin. In addition, korbanot have no expiating effect unless the person making the offering sincerely repents his or her actions before making the offering, and makes restitution to any person who was harmed by the violation.
Offerings are mentioned in the Book of Genesis, but further outlined in the later four books of the Torah, including aspects of their origins and history.
Offerings were practiced in the Tabernacle and during the eras of Solomon’s Temple and the Second Temple in Jerusalem until the total destruction of Judea, Jerusalem, and the Second Temple by the Roman Empire in 70 CE. Every regular weekday, Sabbath, and many Jewish holidays had their own unique offerings.
The priests performed the offerings first in the ancient tabernacle and then in the Temple. The Hebrew Bible describes the kohanim (hereditary priesthood) as descendants of Aaron who meet certain marital and ritual purity requirements. The High Priest of Israel played a crucial role in this regard on Yom Kippur, a day when multiple offerings were offered.
Women and offerings
Women were required to perform a number of offerings, including:
- The offerings following childbirth as described in the Book of Leviticus, 12.
- Thank offering and its accompanying meal offering following recovery from illness or danger.
- The Passover sacrifice on Passover. Women could offer the sacrifice and hold a Passover Seder themselves if they wished, even if married.
- Sin offerings or guilt offerings in atonement for transgressions and unintentional errors.
- The offering for an accused adulterous wife in the ordeal of the bitter water
- Offerings relevant to fulfillment of, or transgression of, the Nazirite vow.
- Offerings following cure from certain diseases and unusual bodily discharges.
Women could also voluntarily participate in a number of other offerings and rituals for which they were not obligated, including:
- First Fruits on the holiday of Shavuot.
- Temple tax – The half-shekel tax for Temple needs.
- Voluntary offerings, peace offerings and a variety of other voluntary and donative offerings.
- Semicha (laying on hands) of sacrificial animals for sacrifices they were not required to perform (Berachot 19a).
- Women could slaughter their sacrificial animals themselves if they wished.
In the Nevi’im
Many books of the Nevi’im section of the Hebrew Bible such as the Book of Isaiah and Book of Jeremiah spoke out against those Israelites who brought forth sacrifices but did not act in accord with the precepts of the Law. The Prophets disparaged sacrifices that were offered without a regeneration of the heart, i.e., a determined turning from sin and returning to God by striving after righteousness (Book of Hosea 14:1-2, Joel 2:13, Micah 6:6-8). At the same time, prophets stressed the importance of offerings combined with justice and good even as they taught that offerings were unacceptable unless combined with heartfelt repentance and good deeds. Malachi, the last prophet in the Hebrew Bible, emphasized that the goal of repentance is not to end sacrifices, but to make the offerings fit for acceptance once again (Book of Malachi, 3:3-4). Similarly, the Book of Isaiah despite disparagement of sacrifices without justice, portrays sacrifice as having a role complementary with prayer in a universalistic eschatology (Isaiah 56:1; 6-7).
100 among the 613 commandments
According to Maimonides, about one hundred of the permanent 613 commandments based on the Torah, by rabbinical enumeration, directly concern sacrifices, excluding those commandments that concern the actual Temple and the priests themselves of which there are about another fifty.
Instructions in Mishnah and Talmud
The Mishnah and Talmud devote a very large section, known as a seder, to the study and analysis of this subject known as Qodashim, whereby all the detailed varieties of korbanot are enumerated and analyzed in great logical depth, such as qodshim kalim (“of minor degree of sanctity”) and qodashei qodashim (“of major degree of sanctity”). In addition, large parts of every other book of the Talmud discuss various kinds of sacrifices. Pesachim is largely devoted to a discussion of how to offer the Passover sacrifice. Yoma contains a detailed discussion of the offerings and Temple ritual on Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement), and there are sections in seder Moed (Festivals) for the special offerings and Temple ritual for other major Jewish holidays. Sheqalim discusses the annual half-shekel offering for Temple maintenance and Temple governance and management, Nashim discusses the offerings made by Nazirites and the suspected adultress, etc.
The Talmud provides extensive details not only on how to perform sacrifices but how to adjudicate difficult cases, such what to do if a mistake was made and whether improperly performing one of the required ritual elements invalidates it or not. The Talmud explains how to roast the Passover offering, how to dash blood from different kinds of sacrifices upon the altar, how to prepare the incense, the regulatory code for the system of taxation that financed the priesthood and public sacrifices, and numerous other details.
Rationale and rabbinic commentary
Maimonides, a medieval Jewish scholar, drew on the early critiques of the need for sacrifice, taking the view that God always held sacrifice inferior to prayer and philosophical meditation. However, God understood that the Israelites were used to the animal sacrifices that the surrounding pagan tribes used as the primary way to commune with their gods. As such, in Maimonides’ view, it was only natural that Israelites would believe that sacrifice would be a necessary part of the relationship between God and man. This view is controversial since the Torah also forbids worship of foreign idols and practices of pagan religions as “detestable” before God including their sacrifices. Maimonides concludes that God’s decision to allow sacrifices was a concession to human psychological limitations. It would have been too much to have expected the Israelites to leap from pagan worship to prayer and meditation in one step. In The Guide for the Perplexed, he writes:
But the custom which was in those days general among men, and the general mode of worship in which the Israelites were brought up consisted in sacrificing animals… It was in accordance with the wisdom and plan of God…that God did not command us to give up and to discontinue all these manners of service. For to obey such a commandment would have been contrary to the nature of man, who generally cleaves to that to which he is used; it would in those days have made the same impression as a prophet would make at present [the 12th Century] if he called us to the service of God and told us in His name, that we should not pray to God nor fast, nor seek His help in time of trouble; that we should serve Him in thought, and not by any action.
In contrast, many others such as Nahmanides (in his commentary on Leviticus 1:9) disagreed. Nahmanides cites the fact that the Torah records the practices of animal and other sacrifices from the times of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and earlier. Indeed, the purpose of recounting the near sacrifice of Isaac was to illustrate the sublime significance and need of animal sacrifices as supplanting the abomination of human sacrifices.
In spiritual practice
The korban also has a spiritual meaning, and refers to some part of an individual’s ego, which is given up as a sacrifice to God in honor of the mortality of the worshipper. In keeping with the root of the word, meaning to draw close, and to the common usage as the sacrifice of an animal, so too can the worshipper sacrifice something of this world in order to become closer to God.
The end of sacrifices
With the destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem by the Romans, the Jewish practice of offering korbanot stopped for all intents and purposes. Despite subsequent intermittent periods of small Jewish groups offering the traditional sacrifices on the Temple Mount, the practice effectively ended.
Rabbinic Judaism was forced to undergo a significant development in response to this change; no longer could Judaism revolve around the Temple services. The destruction of the Temple led to a development of Judaism in the direction of text study, prayer, and personal observance. Orthodox Judaism regards this as being largely an alternative way of fulfilling the obligations of the Temple. Other branches of Judaism (Conservative, Reform, and Reconstructionist) regard the korbanot as an ancient ritual that will not return. A range of responses is recorded in classical rabbinic literature, describing this subject.
Once, Rabbi Yohanan ben Zakkai was walking with his disciple, Rabbi Y’hoshua, near Jerusalem after the destruction of the Temple. Rabbi Y’hoshua looked at the Temple ruins and said “Alas for us!! The place that atoned for the sins of the people Israel lies in ruins!” Then Rabbi Yohannan ben Zakkai spoke to him these words of comfort: ‘Be not grieved, my son. There is another equally meritorious way of gaining ritual atonement, even though the Temple is destroyed. We can still gain ritual atonement through deeds of loving-kindness. For it is written “Loving kindness I desire, not sacrifice.” (Hosea 6:6)
- Midrash Avot D’Rabbi Nathan 4:5
In the Babylonian Talmud, a number of sages opined that following Jewish law, doing charitable deeds, and studying Jewish texts is greater than performing animal sacrifices.
Rabbi Elazar said: Doing righteous deeds of charity is greater than offering all of the sacrifices, as it is written: “Doing charity and justice is more desirable to the Lord than sacrifice” (Proverbs 21:3).
Babylonian Talmud, Sukkah 49
Nonetheless, numerous texts of the Talmud stress the importance of and hope for eventual re-introduction of sacrifices, and regard their loss as a terrible tragedy. Partaking of sacrificial offerings was compared to eating directly at one’s Father’s table, whose loss synagogue worship does not quite entirely replace. One example is in Berachot:
And I said to him: I heard a heavenly voice that was cooing like a dove and saying, “Woe to the children because of whose sins I destroyed My house, and burned My temple, and exiled them among the nations of the world. And he [Elijah the prophet] said to me: “By your life and the life of your head! It is not only at this moment that [the heavenly voice] says this. But on each and every day it says this three times. And not only this, but at the time that the people of Israel enter the synagogues and houses of study, and respond (in the Kaddish) “May His great name be blessed”, the Holy One, Blessed is He, shakes His head and says: “Fortunate for the king who is praised this way in his house. What is there for the Father who has exiled His children. And woe to the children who have been exiled from their Father’s table.” (Talmud Berachot 3a).
- Another example is in Sheqalim:
Rabbi Akiva said: Shimon Ben Loga related the following to me: I was once collecting grasses, and I saw a child from the House of Avitnas (the incense-makers). And I saw that he cried, and I saw that he laughed. I said to him, “My son, why did you cry?” He said, Because of the glory of my Father’s house that has decreased.” I asked “And why did you laugh?” He said to me “Because of the glory prepared for the righteous in the future.” I asked “And what did you see?” [that brought on these emotions]. “The herb maaleh ashan is growing next to me. [Maaleh Ashan is the secret ingredient in the incense that made the smoke rise, which according to the Talmud the House of Avitnas never revealed.]”
Liturgical attention to end of sacrifices
Numerous details of the daily religious practice of an ordinary Jew are connected to keeping memory of the rhythm of the life of the Temple and its sacrifices. For example, the Mishna begins with a statement that the Shema Yisrael prayer is to be recited in the evening at the time when Kohanim who were tamei (ritually impure) are permitted to enter to eat their heave offering (a food-tithe given to priests) following purification. A detailed discussion of the obligations of tithing, ritual purity, and other elements central to the Temple and priesthood is required in order to determine the meaning of this contemporary daily Jewish obligation.
Jewish services for Shabbat, Jewish holidays and other occasions include special prayers for the restoration of sacrifices. For example, the traditional Yom Kippur liturgy contains repeated prayers for the restoration of sacrifices and every High Holiday Amidah contains Isaiah 56:7:
Even them will I bring to My holy mountain, and make them joyful in My house of prayer; their burnt-offerings and their sacrifices shall be acceptable upon Mine altar; for My house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.
Modern view and resumption of sacrifices
Future of sacrifices in Judaism
See also: Temple in Jerusalem
The prevailing belief among rabbinic Jews is that in the messianic era, the Messiah will come and a Third Temple will be built. It is believed that the korbanot will be reinstituted, but to what extent and for how long is unknown. Some biblical and classical rabbinic sources hold that most or all sacrifices will not need to be offered.
- In the future all sacrifices, with the exception of the Thanksgiving-sacrifice, will be discontinued. (Midrash Vayikra Rabbah 9:7)
- All sacrifices will be annulled in the future. (Tanchuma Emor 14, Vayikra Rabbah 9:7)
- Then the grain-offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to God as in the days of old, and as in ancient years. (Malachi 3:4)
- It is impossible to go suddenly from one extreme to the other;…the custom which was in those days general among all men, and the general mode of worship in which the Israelites were brought up consisted of sacrificing animals in the temples… For this reason God allowed this kind of service to continue. The sacrificial system is not the primary object, rather supplications, and prayer. (Maimonides, The Guide to the Perplexed III 32)
The majority view of classical rabbis is that the Torah’s commandments will still be applicable and in force during the messianic era. However, a significant minority of rabbis held that most of the commandments will be nullified in the messianic era, thus holding that sacrifices will not be reinstated. Examples of such rabbinic views include:
- Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Niddah 61b and Tractate Shabbat 151b.
- Midrash Shochar Tov (Mizmor 146:5) states that God will permit what is now forbidden.
Orthodox Judaism holds that in the messianic era, most or all of the korbanot will be reinstituted, at least for a time. Conservative Judaism and Reform Judaism, hold that no animal sacrifices will be offered in a rebuilt Temple at all, following the position of Tanchuma Emor 14 and Vayikra Rabbah 9:7.
Nineteenth and twentieth century
In the 1800s a number of Orthodox rabbis studied the idea of reinstating korbanot on the Temple Mount, even though the messianic era had not yet arrived and the Temple was not rebuilt. A number of responsa concluded that within certain parameters, it is permissible according to Jewish law to offer such sacrifices.
During the early 20th century, Israel Meir Kagan advised some followers to set up special yeshivas for married students known as Qodshim Kolelim that would specialize in the study of the korbanot and study with greater intensity the qodshim sections of the Talmud in order to prepare for the arrival of the Jewish Messiah who would oversee the rebuilding of the original Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem that would be known as the Third Temple. His advice was taken seriously and today there are a number of well-established Haredi institutions in Israel that focus solely on the subject of the korbanot, qodshim, and the needs of the future Jewish Temple, such as the Brisk tradition and Soloveitchik dynasty.
Efforts to restore korbanot
Main article: The Third Temple
A few groups, notably the Temple Institute and the Temple Mount Faithful, have petitioned the Israeli government to rebuild a Third Temple on the Temple Mount and restore sacrificial worship. The Israeli government has not responded favorably. Most Orthodox Jews regard rebuilding a Temple as an activity for a Jewish Messiah as part of a future Jewish eschatology, and most non-Orthodox Jews do not believe in the restoration of sacrificial worship at all. The Temple Institute has been constructing ritual objects in preparation for a resumption of sacrifices.
View among modern Jewish denominations
Contemporary Orthodox Judaism
Today Orthodox Judaism includes mention of each korban on either a daily basis in the siddur (daily prayer book), or in the machzor (holiday prayerbook) as part of the prayers for the relevant days concerned. They are also referred to in the prayerbooks of Conservative Judaism, in an abbreviated fashion.
On each Jewish holiday the sections in the Torah mentioning that festival’s korbanot is read out loud in synagogue.
In the very early morning daily Shacharit prayers for example, they include the following in order of mention, actually called the korbanot. The following example is taken from the Nusach Ashkenaz.
- Kiyor Describing the basin containing pure water to wash up before touching the korbanot (offerings), based on Exodus 30: 17-21.
- Trumat Hadeshen Removing the ashes of the korban olah (elevation offering), based on Leviticus 6:1-6.
- korban Tamid Perpetual daily offerings: “…Fire-offering…male yearling lambs unblemished two a day…” based on Numbers 28:1-8.
- Ketoret Incense [from] spices: “…stacte, onycha, and galbanum, …and frankincense…” Based on Exodus 30:34-36;7-8… “myrrh, cassia, spikenard, saffron, costus, aromatic bark, cinnamon, ley, salt, amber…” based on the Babylonian Talmud Kritut 6a; Jerusalem Talmud Yoma 4:5; 33a.
- korban Musaf The additional offerings for Shabbat: “On the Sabbath…two male lambs…fine flour for a meal offering mixed with oil and its wine libation…” based on Numbers 28:9-10.
- korban Rosh Chodesh Offering for the new month: …Two young bulls, one ram, seven lambs…fine flour …mixed with olive oil…one he goat… and its wine libation.” Based on Numbers 28: 11-15.
- Zevachim Chapter 5 of Mishnah Zevachim is then cited. (It was included in the siddur at this stage because it discusses all the sacrifices and the sages do not dispute within it):
- A. Eizehu mekoman shel z’vachim Places for the zevachim korbanot to be offered: “…The slaughter of the bull and the he-goat of Yom Kippur is in the north [of the altar]…”
- B. Parim hanisrafim Bulls that are completely burned: “…These are burned in the place where the [altar] ashes are deposited.”
- C. Chatot hatzibur v’hayachid Sin offerings of the community and the individual: “…The he-goats…are eaten within the [Temple courtyard] curtains by male priests…until midnight.”
- D. Ha’olah qodesh qodashim The elevation offering is among the offerings with a major-degree-of-holiness: “…it is entirely consumed by fire.”
- E. Zivchei shalmei tzibur v’ashamot Communal peace offerings and guilt offerings: “…are eaten within the [Temple courtyard] by males of the priesthood…until midnight.”
- F. Hatodah v’eil nazir qodashim kalim The thanksgiving offering and the ram of a Nazirite are offerings of a minor-degree holiness: “They are eaten throughout the city [of Jerusalem] by anyone, prepared in any manner…until midnight…”
- G. Sh’lamim qodashim kalim The peace offerings are of lesser (lighter) holiness: “…Is eaten by the kohanim…throughout the city [of Jerusalem] by anyone…”
- H. Hab’chor vehama’aser vehapesach qodashim kalim The firstborn and tithe of animals and the Passover offering are offerings of lesser (lighter) holiness: “…The Passover offering is eaten only at night…only if roasted.”
- Rabbi Yishmael omer Rabbi Yishmael says: Through thirteen rules is the Torah elucidated. (Introduction to the Sifra, part of the Oral Law).
- Yehi Ratzon (Ending) The study session concludes with a prayer (“May it be thy will…) for the restoration of the Temple in Jerusalem and the resumption of sacrifices. (…that the Temple be rebuilt speedily in our days, and grant our portion in your Torah and there we shall serve you with reverence as in days of old and in former years. And may the grain offering of Judah and Jerusalem be pleasing to God, as in days of old and in former years.”)
- Retzai Every the Orthodox Amidah, the central prayer of Jewish services, contains the paragraph: “Be favorable, Oh Lord our God, to your people Israel and their prayer, and restore the service of the Holy of Holies of Your House, and accept the fire-offerings of Israel and their prayer with love and favor, and may the service of your people Israel always be favored.” Conservative Judaism removes the fire-offerings clause from this prayer.
- Yehi Ratzon Private recitiation of the Amidah traditionally ends with the Yehi Ratzon prayer for the restoration of the Temple.
- The Amidah itself is said to represent liturgically the purpose of the daily korban, while the recitation of the korbanot sections fulfill the formal responsibility to perform them, in the absence of the Temple.
The weekday Torah reading
- A set of blessings connected with the weekday Torah reading include a prayer for the restoration of the Temple: “May it be the will before our Father who is in heaven to establish the House of our lives and to return his Shekhinah into our midst, speedily, in our days, and let us say Amen.”
In Conservative Judaism
Conservative Judaism disavows the resumption of qorbanot. Consistent with this view, it has deleted prayers for the resumption of sacrifices from the Conservative siddur, including both the morning study section from the sacrifices, prayers for the restoration of qorbanot in the Amidah, and various mentions elsewhere. Consistent with its view that a priesthood and sacrificial system will not be restored, Conservative Judaism has also lifted certain restrictions on kohanim, including limitations on marriage prohibiting marrying a divorced woman or a convert. Conservative Judaism does, however, believe in the restoration of a Temple in some form, and in the continuation of kohanim and Levites under relaxed requirements, and has retained references to both in its prayer books. Consistent with its stress on the continuity of tradition, many Conservative synagogues have also retained references to Shabbat and Festival qorbanot, changing all references to sacrifices into the past tense (e.g. the Orthodox “and there we will sacrifice” is changed to “and there they sacrificed”). Some more liberal Conservative synagogues, however, have removed all references to sacrifices, past or present, from the prayer service. The most recent official Conservative prayer book, Sim Shalom, provides both service alternatives.
In Reform and Reconstructionist Judaism
Reform Judaism and Reconstructionist Judaism disavow all belief in a restoration of a Temple, the resumption of qorbanot, or the continuation of identified Cohens or Levites. These branches of Judaism believe that all such practices represent ancient practices inconsistent with the requirements of modernity, and have removed all or virtually all references to qorbanot from their prayer books.
Adapted from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia